AKRON, Ohio (CN) – An Ohio mother claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that officials in the Akron school district allowed a man impersonating a police officer to handcuff and threaten to stun her child under the guise of a fake “scared straight” program purportedly aimed at deterring kids from committing crimes.
A woman identified in the federal complaint as M.H. sued on behalf of her son, W.H., alleging the school permitted the man to roam the Leggett Community Learning Center in a black police uniform with a badge partially obscured by black tape and openly carry a firearm.
The lawsuit filed in Akron federal court follows two other similar cases filed by parents last month against the Akron City School District.
Represented by attorney Eddie Sipplen, M.H. seeks $1 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages for alleged violations of W.H.’s right against cruel and unusual punishment, assault, battery and 15 other counts. Sipplen did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for an interview.
According to the lawsuit, the school district let Christopher Hendon enter the school to front an unofficial “scared straight” program that included the “abuse of minor students” both on and off school property. School administrators and teachers witnessed Hendon’s behavior but did nothing about it, according to M.H.
Scared straight programs are derived from a documentary of the same name, released in 1978. The highly controversial program is meant to act as a deterrent to children and troubled youths by exposing them to prison life and adult inmates to frighten them against committing criminal acts. But researchers have questioned their effectiveness and have concluded that they could have the opposite effect.
The mother says that her African-American son and other black students were the primary target of the scared straight initiative, a purported mentor program that involved “transporting children from the school to the local prison, handcuffing them, and placing them in prison cells,” according to the complaint.
“Hendon’s conduct toward W.H., and the defendants’ acquiescence and cover-up, were inexcusable,” the complaint states.
In March, Hendon was sentenced to five years and seven months in prison for impersonating a police officer, kidnapping, and abduction.
M.H. claims that in early April 2017, she received a call from Hendon letting her know that her son, who has attention deficit disorder, had been placed in the scared straight program. She says that she never shared her personal contact information with Hendon and that school officials must have given it to him.
She later arrived at the Leggett Community Learning Center to find her son handcuffed to another black boy who was about the same age.
“She saw her son being hysterical and screaming and hollering, while handcuffed to the other child, ‘I don’t want to go to jail!” the lawsuit states.
Believing that Hendon was a police officer, the mother says she acquiesced and allowed Hendon to take W.H. to a local juvenile center. Hendon also tried to take W.H. to county jail, according to the lawsuit, and told the boy, “If you try to run, I will taser you.”
M.H. claims that on other occasions, Hendon handcuffed her son and others while on school grounds.
“Ever since the incident involving Hendon, M.H. has observed W.H. struggle more with his behavior and learning. Incidents of emotional outburst, property damage and mistrust of police and authority figures have increased,” the lawsuit states.
Prosecutors charged Hendon on 61 felony counts. He pleaded guilty to seven counts of kidnapping, six counts of impersonating a police officer and three counts of illegal conveyance of a weapon into the school, according to the complaint, and is serving his time at the Loraine Correctional Facility. He will be eligible for release in a year and a half, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
Akron Public Schools spokesman Mark Williamson said he could not comment on pending litigation.