LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A rural Nebraska sheriff who spoke to a high school class handcuffed a student and broke the key, then had a welding shop remove the cuffs with a torch, severely burning the 17-year-old, the student's parents claim.

The torch caused third-degree burns to Seth Barrett's wrist, which later required surgery, Barrett's parents said in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court.

``The theme of this lawsuit is `What were you thinking?''' said Maren Chaloupka, attorney for Barrett's father, Elmer Barrett.

According to the lawsuit, Garfield County Sheriff Larry Donner was invited to speak to a Burwell High School class by his wife, who is a teacher, on May 13, 2002.

After his talk, Donner allowed some of the students to play with his handcuffs and Donner ``handcuffed Seth as part of that horseplay,'' according to the lawsuit.

After breaking off the key while trying to remove the handcuffs, the suit alleges Donner took Barrett to a welding shop and had the cuffs removed with a plasma cutter _ an arc welder used to cut metal.

Donner then took Barrett to a local medical clinic, where he authorized treatment and the administration of a prescription drug for the burns, according to the lawsuit. Barrett's parents did not learn of the incident until Donner brought the boy home later that day, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses the central Nebraska county, the school and the welding shop of failing to protect the boy. It accuses Donner, his wife and the welding shop of interfering with the Barretts' parental rights by making decisions for their son's health and welfare.

Bill Wright, the attorney for the school, and Vince Valentino, who represents Garfield County, declined comment. Dan Placzek, the lawyer for the welding shop, Stalker Machine Inc., did not return a call seeking comment. It was not immediately known who was representing the Donners.