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Three middle school girls were unlawfully arrested to ‘prove a point.’ San Bernardino County just paid them $390,000

Three San Bernardino County middle school girls who were unlawfully arrested “to teach them a lesson” were awarded $390,000 this week to settle their case, their lawyer said.

The 2013 incident began when Balbina Kendall, then assistant principal at Etiwanda Intermediate School, asked the school resource officer, sheriff’s Deputy Luis Ortiz, for help with a group of girls who were involved in an “ongoing feud” with another group, according to court documents.

The girls, two of whom were age 12 and the other 13 at the time, had gone to the school office that morning to complain to administrators that they were being bullied and physically attacked by four other girls at the school.

An audio tape of Ortiz’s encounter with the girls reflects some whispering and quiet giggling in response to his questioning, according to court documents. Ortiz told the girls he was arresting them because he was not “playing around” and that he was taking them to jail to “prove a point.”

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The girls eventually sued the county and deputy for violating their constitutional rights.

“The people they have as school resource officers are not well trained,” said Jerry Steering, the girls’ lawyer. “This guy was a bad egg.”

Steering said his clients were the victims of bullying. He said the school did not discipline any of the seven girls involved, and no criminal charges were filed.

The settlement follows a decision issued in September by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that the special needs doctrine, an exception to the 4th Amendment that permits police to make searches and seizures that would otherwise be deemed unconstitutional, doesn’t apply to the arrests of students.

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“The summary arrest, handcuffing, and police transport to the station of the middle school girls was a disproportionate response to the school’s need,” Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote in the opinion for the three-judge panel. “No reasonable officer could have reasonably believed that the law authorizes the arrest of a group of middle schoolers in order to teach them a lesson or to prove a point.”

andrea.castillo@latimes.com | Twitter: @andreamcastillo


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