AG Ellison says Hennepin County SRO opinion ‘not helpful’
(KSTP) – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison hopes more law enforcement agencies put school resource officers back in school after he offered two “binding” opinions that can only be overruled by a judge or the Minnesota Legislature.
He says those who interpreted a new state law passed last May as only allowing officers to restrain students in extreme circumstances is not correct.
“They’re able to use reasonable force,” he says. “That’s the simplest, most straightforward thing. It’s already in law, 609.06. And look, 609.06 is based on the U.S. Constitution.”
Ellison says officers still have wide latitude to intervene and restrain students if necessary and within reason.
My thing is if an officer is in good faith trying to break up a fight and maintain safety, that officer is in very good shape and should not worry,” Ellison said in an interview recorded for “At Issue with Tom Hauser.”
Last month Ellison released a second opinion clarifying the new law that concerned law enforcement. His opinion said, in part:
“There have been significant misunderstandings about the impact of the new amendments. For example, some have interpreted the amendments as restricting SROs and school professionals from engaging in any physical contact to address non-violent behavior. That is not the case: professionals simply must avoid the restraints identified in Section 121A.58, namely, that unless a student poses an imminent threat of bodily harm to self or others, professionals ‘shall not use prone restraint’ and ‘shall not inflict any form of physical holding that restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to breathe; restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to communicate distress; places pressure or weight on a pupil’s head, throat, neck, chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back, or abdomen; or results in straddling a pupil’s torso.’ If a student is misbehaving in a way that does not and will not harm that student or anyone else, professionals in schools still have many tools at their disposal, including other kinds of physical contact.”
— Minnesota Attorney General Keith Elllison
Despite all those restrictions, Ellison says the ability to use “reasonable force” remains in effect even for nonviolent offenses, but adds, “I completely understand why there’s confusion.”
Several days after Ellison offered his opinion to allay concerns about the new law, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarity offered her own opinion to law enforcement in her county saying she believes school resource officers should only restrain students if they pose a risk to themselves or others.
“Some individual’s interpretation might be interesting conversation, but it’s not binding. And so I would just urge everyone in Hennepin County to rely on the interpretation of the attorney general which they can trust,” Ellison said.
When asked if Moriarity’s opinion confused the issue even further, he responded, “It was not helpful.”
Some school resource officers have returned, but others say they will remain out until the law is changed or clarified by the Minnesota Legislature.