Federal lawsuit accuses former CPS security staff of concussing student
COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ) -
A lawsuit from a Columbia family accuses a former security staff member of concussing their teenaged soon and chipping his tooth during school.
The lawsuit from the family of "J.J." as he's referred to in court documents, was moved from state to federal courts on Monday. J.J.'s family accused former assistant coordinator of safety and security Kevin Keith of forcing the teen into a school office and pushing him into the ground in Sept. 2021. The incident left the then-14-year-old with injuries like a chipped tooth and concussion. The state's Child Abuse and Neglect Board reversed a Department of Social Services decision that Keith had committed child abuse based on its investigation shortly after it happened, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Andy Hirth said the family is seeking compensation from the district over the boy's injuries and an order from the court toward Columbia Public Schools on its security staff practices towards students.
"Students should be going to school to learn," Hirth said. "They shouldn't be there being treated like criminal suspects, especially when they haven't done anything."
Keith retired from the Columbia Police Department in 2013 after a 20-year career, according to a Facebook post from the department that year. CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said Keith worked at CPS from November 2013 to October 2021. She declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said J.J. was passing Keith in the hallways on Sept. 1, 2021. Keith was heading toward a loud noise in the hallway when J.J. passed by him. The lawsuit said Keith tried asking J.J. if he had anything to do with it. When the boy said he didn't, Keith persisted in questioning him, following him to his classroom door. The lawsuit claims Keith grabbed the teen by his arm after trying to get his name and took him into an office.
Hirth said when inside the office, Keith shoved the teen into a wall and then onto the ground. The incident chipped the teen's tooth, and doctors days later said the teen had a concussion. Hirth said the incident in his first month of school has made it hard for the teen and family to trust school staff.
"This is 'Welcome to Rock Bridge High School, here's the ground,'" Hirth said.
The lawsuit is asking DIstrict Judge Douglas Harpool to order CPS staff to stop seizing students without probable cause. Hirth said the school board should also consider the training and work backgrounds of school staff tasked with school safety. Keith's techniques learned as a police officer may not translate into the school setting.
"Most of those maneuvers or procedures, the training he got shouldn't be applicable to a school," Hirth said.
The lawsuit claims a vice principal that saw Keith and the teen called the state's child abuse hotline. DSS and CPD launched an investigation shortly afterwards, according to the lawsuit. DSS's investigation found Keith had committed child abuse "based on a preponderance of the evidence," but the state board reversed it when Keith appealed. Hirth said he was not aware of the reason why the review board reversed it.
Hirth has previously raised issues with law enforcement interacting with students in school. A federal judge dismissed his lawsuit against CPD detectives in 2022 after a pair of them questioned a student in school about a case. The judge said the officers were protected by qualified immunity in the case.