On May 15th 2017, The U.S. Supreme Court decided to not bring a civil rights lawsuit against Albuquerque Police Officer Arthur Acosta for arresting an unidentified 13-year-old seventh-grade Cleveland Middle School boy who burped repeatedly during his P.E. class. Instead of sending the boy to the principal’s office, the teacher called the schools resource officer who led the teen to the school’s office and then placed him under arrest for violating New Mexico’s school disruption law back in 2011. The misdemeanor law makes it a crime to “disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.”
The mother of the now eighteen-year-old attempted to bring an appeals case up in the Supreme Court due to the lower courts siding with the officer but the justices refused to hear the appeal due to the fact that the lower court granted him qualified immunity, a legal defense that protects certain public officials from suits as long as they did not violate a clearly established law or constitutional right. The mothers suit was for seeking monetary damages from Acosta, claiming unlawful arrest and excessive force in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The documents also show a separate incident, on Nov. 8, when he was forced to strip to his underwear while five adults watched after he was accused of selling marijuana to another student. He was never charged with a crime in that incident.
According to the court documents the boy was an athlete who played on a traveling baseball team and “has the natural ability and desire to excel in P.E.” before being suspended for the rest of the 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.
Justice Neil Gorsuch was one of the judges that previously ruled in the previous lower court cases being the only dissenter in the 2-1 ruling, therefor he did not take part in considering whether to take up the case. Gorsuch original said that the boy should not have been arrested for intentionally belching.
According to Business Insider:
Gorsuch wrote that the boy should not have been arrested for “trading fake burps for laughs in gym class.” Quoting Charles Dickens, Gorsuch said the law is not as much of an “ass” to lead to that.
In her appeal to the Supreme Court, the teen’s mother said Acosta should have known that New Mexico law clearly establishes that arrests of school children must be reserved for violent offenses or when other students are at risk of harm.