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J.W. ex rel. Williams v. A.C. Roper

Students in Birmingham, Ala., public schools were subjected to pepper spray as punishment for routine offenses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of district students to end the practice and other abusive and unconstitutional behavior. It was filed after the Birmingham School Board refused to address the issue following a November 18 demand letter SPLC sent to the board’s attorney.

The SPLC later uncovered more pepper spray incidents, including several involving female students and, in one instance, a pregnant student. After discovering these incidents, the SPLC filed a motion to certify the complaint as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all current and future students in the district.

The lawsuit describes how the Birmingham Board of Education, the superintendent and the Birmingham Police Department violated the constitutional rights of students through an abusive policy that allowed school resource officers to use chemical weapons against students to enforce basic school discipline.

Pepper spray was used against children who posed no threat to themselves or others. These children were accused of engaging in normal but non-dangerous adolescent misbehavior. Adults taunted the students and even celebrated their punishment.