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Teachers file federal lawsuit against White County Sheriff's Department over active shooter training

The lawsuit details what teachers say happen on January 4th, 2019 when they showed up for ALICE active shooter training. It also details injuries and trauma the teachers still deal with.

Posted: Aug 26, 2020 10:04 PM

WHITE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Eight teachers who worked at Meadowlawn Elementary School in White County have filed a federal lawsuit against the county and the county sheriff's office. The lawsuit was filed on August 14th with the United States District Court of Northern Indiana.

The incident happened on January 4th, 2019. The eight teachers in the lawsuit said they volunteered to go through ALICE active shooter training on the belief of helping their students. They said they were not told about the training involving "physical force, verbal abuse, threats of personal injury."

WCSD said they had done this active shooter training multiple times in the community, and that all the officers involved were trained from the ALICE Training Institute. The ALICE website gives the following description of the training:

"ALICE Active Shooter Response Training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) empowers your people to make good survival decisions should an attack occur. Training options include everything from on-demand e-Learning and in-person training to organizational certification."

The website does not mention use of force in its training procedures. The Plaintiffs said in the lawsuit they did not sign any consent forms agreeing to physical force.

According to court documents, the teachers went through an "Execution Style Drill" first. They said they were given goggles without an explanation. The lawsuit said the officers in the classroom told them to line up along a wall on their knees. The lawsuit said the teachers had no clear path to exit.  The following is an excerpt from the lawsuit with the names removed.

"While teachers complied with instructions to line up and kneel down, one of the Officers, believed to be Defendant "X", told teachers, “this is what happens if you just cower and do nothing” in response to an active shooter.

Only seconds after kneeling, teachers were shot without warning by one of the Officers, believed to be Defendant "Y", with an air-soft gun. The Officer shot teachers from point-blank range, walking back and forth along the line of kneeling teachers until his gun ran out of bullets."

The lawsuit said teachers showed physical vocal signs of pain. It said they were released from the classroom without any debrief or proper explanation. It said the officers told them not to talk about what happened to the other teachers. The lawsuit alleges that officers were a constant presence and had strong control over the situation.

The teachers also said they saw the officers "grinning or laughing" when they stood up after being shot and saw the officers "smiling, laughing, joking, and making light of events throughout the day."

Court documents say the officers did the Execution Style Drill four times that day, two groups in the morning and two in the afternoon. Teachers in all four groups reported similar stories of being fired upon at close range despite complying with officers.

"All teachers’ body language showed clear signs of physical distress as they squirmed to avoid the bullets," said the lawsuit. "For each Plaintiff, the Execution Style Drill was one of the most terrifying experiences of her life."

The groups then went through various Rotating Drills where some teachers acted as the adults and others acted as students.

In the "Run and Hide Drill," the lawsuit said a teacher was instructed to run and quickly close the door while the "students" hid behind classroom objects. It said one officer, "went from classroom to classroom, entering through the unlocked doors and firing at the participants in their hiding spots, with bullets striking the cornered teachers."

After going through several similar drills, the lawsuit said the teachers were given no prepared presentation or educational materials.

Physical injuries explained in the lawsuit included bruising, bleeding, welts, broken skin and even permanent scaring. Several teachers continue to suffer mentally from this incident. One teacher has been diagnosed with PTSD. Several now have to regularly see a therapist. Multiple teachers also say they now have anxiety, fear and mistrust when it comes to law enforcement where there was complete trust before. Several also say they have heightened fear anxiety around other safety drills, especially if they are unannounced drills.

The lawsuit names current Sheriff Bill Brooks as a Defendant. It also names former Sheriff Patrick Shafer. Shafer retired on January 1st of 2019. The incident at Meadowlawn happened three days into Sheriff Brooks tenure on January 4th. White County is also listed as a Defendant in the case. The lawsuit said the county and both Shafer and Brooks are responsible for the training and conduct of the officers involved. 

"The injuries suffered by Plaintiffs were also a direct and proximate result of White County and/or WCSD, and Defendants Shafer and Brooks’ failure to properly train WCSD officers.

By failing to properly train WCSD Officers on how to safely conduct an active shooter training compliant with participants’ constitutional rights, White County and/or WCSD, and Defendants Shafer and Brooks demonstrated deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs."

The White County Commissioners did not return a request for comment. The White County Sheriff's Office did not return multiple requests for comment. The attorney representing White County and WCSD said he cannot comment on the case at this time.

The lawsuit said six of the teachers no longer work at Meadowlawn Elementary and two remain. It said all three lower ranking officers named as Defendants are still employed with WCSD. One is now a School Resource Officer at Meadowlawn. News 18 asked WCSD if that officer will be moved while this case is pending. We did not get a response.

In the "Claims for Relief" portion of the lawsuit, it said the incident infringed on three aspects of the Fourth Amendment: unreasonable seizure, excessive force and substantive due process. It also claims violation of four Indiana State Law Claims: false imprisonment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Plaintiffs are asking for compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and all other appropriate relief. They are demanding a jury trial. 

The attorney representing the Plaintiffs was not able to give a comment at this time.

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