The arrest of an 8-year-old boy at a Florida school in 2018 has sparked an outcry after civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the boy’s family, posted online footage of police attempting to handcuff the child.
Crump shared police body camera footage on Sunday night of the incident, which had been viewed more than 1.5 million times as of Monday evening. He said in an emailed news release that the boy’s mother, Bianca N Digennaro, had retained him.
The arrest took place at Gerald Adams Elementary in Key West, Florida, on December 14, 2018, after the boy reportedly punched a teacher in the chest, according to an arrest report obtained by the Miami Herald. The child was arrested on a felony battery charge, according to the report. He is not named due to his age.
In a statement, Crump said the boy had an individual education plan in place to assist with a disability.
“Instead of honouring and fulfilling that plan, the school placed him with a substitute teacher who had no awareness or concern about his needs and who escalated the situation by using her hands to forcibly move him,” Crump said.
“When he acted out, the teacher called the police, who threatened him with jail and tried to put him in handcuffs, which fell off because he was too little.”
The video shows police officers first telling the child he’s going to jail and then asking him to place his hands up against a cabinet so they can attempt to handcuff him. They stop when the boy’s hands prove too small to be cuffed. They then walk him out of the school with his hands in front of him. When they reach the exit, one officer has a word with the child.
“You understand this is very serious, OK?” the officer says in the footage. “I hate that you put me in this position that I have to do this. The thing about it is, you made a mistake. Now it’s time to learn from it and grow from it, not repeat the same mistake again.”
Crump called the incident a “heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals.” If convicted, the child would have become a convicted felon at just eight years old, he noted.
“This little boy was failed by everyone who played a part in this horrific incident,” he said.
Crump ― who is also representing the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ― and civil rights attorney Devon Jacob, will file a federal lawsuit against the officers, school officials, the city of Key West and the Monroe County School District, the statement said.
Key West Police Chief Sean T Brandenburg told the Miami Herald Monday that his officers did nothing wrong.
“Based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Monroe County School District said in an email to HuffPost that the district has not been involved in any litigation about the incident in question. “Due to the possibility of this matter becoming a legal issue in the future, we have been advised not to make further comment about the incident at this time,” the statement said.
A City of Key West representative did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The video drew condemnation from advocacy groups and many others online, including former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, who called the footage “unbelievable.”
“Police should have no role in punishing our kids or pulling traumatic stunts like this in our schools,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union called for an end to police presence in schools, as did the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Violent interactions like this between children with disabilities and police cause long-lasting harm and trauma to kids and their families,” the SPLC tweeted.
“Arresting an 8-year-old child and sending him to jail is NEVER acceptable. Police have no place ‘disciplining’ our kids in schools.”