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School Sued After Boy’s Burp Led to Trouble

Busted for burping.

A seventh-grade Cleveland Middle School boy last May was handcuffed by a city police officer, arrested and taken from school to the Juvenile Detention Center after he “burped audibly” while he was in his P.E. class, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.

He was transported without his parents being notified, the suit said.

It also details a separate incident, on Nov. 8, when the same student was forced to strip to his underwear while five adults watched after he was accused of selling marijuana to another student, the lawsuit said. The boy was never charged with a crime in that incident.

Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta said she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Principal Susan Labarge, teacher Margaret Mines-Hornbeck and city of Albuquerque officer A. Acosta are named in the suit, which claims they used excessive force and violated the boy’s civil rights with an unlawful arrest and an unlawful strip search in their handling of the two incidents.

It also said his due process rights were violated after the burp, which occurred May 11, because the school suspended him for the rest of the school year without “providing him an explanation of the evidence the school claimed to have against him.” And it said he was denied the right to call witnesses or present his side of the story. The lawsuit does not give the boy’s name.

“Criminalizing of the burping of a thirteen-year-old boy serves no governmental purpose,” the lawsuit said. “Burping is not a serious disruption, a threat of danger was never an issue …”

The boy is an athlete who plays on a traveling baseball team and “has the natural ability and desire to excel in P.E. and all school-related sports and academic activities,” the suit said.

After the burp occurred, Mines-Hornbeck called the school resource officer because the boy “disrupted her class.” He tried to apologize and explain that another boy was joking about the burping – not him – but he was not allowed to give his side of the story, according to the lawsuit.

At the detention center, the boy was given a risk assessment by the staff and scored a minus 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 – “meaning he posed a less than zero risk to the community or himself,” the suit said.

The document does not include the disposition of the criminal charge, but says the boy was not allowed to take his finals. He “began striking out in his baseball games” and suffered severe depression and anxiety, it said.

Earlier this school year, the boy went to the same school with $200 in his pocket because he planned a trip to the mall after school to go shopping. He was summoned to the office and questioned about the money.

“Defendant Labarge falsely accused (the boy) of selling marijuana at school” and claimed she had recorded him on video. The boy asked to call his mother but was not allowed to do so and was instead told to strip to his underwear while circled by five adults.

He was not charged with any crime related to that incident, the suit said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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