DALLAS (CN) – A black Muslim teenager who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school failed to state a valid claim of racial discrimination against a Dallas-area school district, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Dubbed “clock boy” by the press, Ahmed Mohamed made headlines in 2015 when he was arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving after bringing a circuit board and power supply that he wired to a digital display inside of a metal pencil case. A teacher purportedly thought it looked like a bomb.
His father, Mohamed Alhassan Mohamed, sued school principal Daniel Cummings, the Irving Independent School District and the city of Irving in August 2016, claiming his son’s civil rights were violated.
The lawsuit claims Mohamed was interrogated by police and school officials for 90 minutes, was threatened with expulsion if he did not write a statement, and that his requests for his parents were denied.
It also claims police forcefully pulled him out of his chair and marched him in front of the school in handcuffs.
A photograph of a bewildered Mohamed being led away in handcuffs went viral on social media, with President Barack Obama tweeting him an invitation to the White House in response.
U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay granted the city and school districts’ motions to dismiss, concluding the lawsuit does not allege facts for him to “reasonably infer” that any school district employee intentionally discriminated against Mohamed based on his race or religion in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“Plaintiff does not alleged at the IISD treated A.M. differently because of his race or religion than other students involved in similar disciplinary situations,” the 37-page opinion states. “Absent allegations of intentional discrimination, or allegations from which the court can reasonably infer intentional discrimination, plaintiff fails to allege an equal protection violation against the IISD.”
However, Lindsay cited U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent in allowing Mohamed’s father to refile the lawsuit by June 1, giving him a chance to amend his claims that are “factually deficient.”
The judge was not persuaded that Mohamed was arrested without probable cause in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, writing the lawsuit failed to “identify any official policy” that caused the alleged violation.
He also declined the plaintiff’s request to ignore Fifth Circuit precedent and instead rule that Mohamed’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated when police allegedly refused his request to speak to his parents or give him a Miranda warning.
“The court is bound by the law of the Fifth Circuit and declines Plaintiff’s invitation to ignore binding precedent and look to case decisions from other circuit courts,” the opinion states. “Here, plaintiff has pleaded that all charges against A.M. arising from the arrest were dropped. Plaintiff does not allege that any information allegedly improperly obtained from A.M. were ever used against him in a criminal trial or in pretrial proceedings.”
Mohamed was released to his parents hours later and charges were dropped, but he remained suspended from school for three days.
He never returned to MacArthur High School – he later accepted a full scholarship to study in Qatar thanks to the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.
Judge Lindsay said the lawsuit advances only a “subjective belief” that Cummings’ actions were motivated by Mohamed’s race. He said even if the lawsuit had adequately alleged intentional racial discrimination by Cummings or a teacher, the school district “cannot be held vicariously liable under Title IV.”
Irving ISD and Cummings’ attorney, Kathryn Long with Thompson & Horton in Dallas, applauded the ruling as the court understanding the “challenging situations” faced by public school employees.
“Schools and principals must make decisions every day regarding student safety,” she said in a statement Friday afternoon. “The opinion confirms that there was no suggestion of discriminatory intent by any school district employee.”
Mohamed’s attorney, Susan Hutchison with Hutchison & Stoy in Fort Worth, told Courthouse News the reason why they were not sufficiently specific on the facts is due to not being allowed to conduct any discovery.
“It’s a Catch-22 – the defendants file a motion to dismiss on the basis that we haven’t provided enough information, but we are not allowed to conduct discovery to obtain any information,” she said Friday afternoon. “So I will be asking the court to allow limited discovery to address the points raised by the court and leave to add parties.”