Members of the Key West, Florida, police force are under fire after body cam footage emerged of a disturbing 2018 arrest of an 8-year-old special-needs boy.
What are the details of the child’s arrest?
According to a Wednesday CNN report, the unnamed child — who receives services as a special-needs student — allegedly hit a substitute teacher.
The teacher, who also remains unnamed at the time of this reporting, reportedly phoned authorities on the boy though she purportedly did not sustain any actual injuries.
The incident took place in the school’s lunch room as the substitute watched over a class eating their meals. Reports allege that the boy was not sitting properly in his seat, which prompted the teacher to direct him to sit properly on the bench. When he reportedly wouldn’t, she directed him to sit with her instead. When he refused, she approached him.
The child reportedly told the teacher, “Don’t put your hands on me” and reportedly began to swear at the teacher, telling her that his mom would “beat your a**.” He then reportedly struck her in the chest with his right hand.
When authorities arrived at the school, two of the officers approached the boy — who stands around 42 inches tall — to tell him that they were going to arrest him.
One of the officers on the body cam footage can be heard saying, “Son, you know where you are going? You’re going to jail.”
The officer commands the crying boy to turn around so he can carry out a pat-down on the child and tells the boy to put his hands behind his back.
The boy complies, but the officer discovers that the 8-year-old child’s hands are far too small for cuffs.
One of the officers attempted to handcuff the child but realized his little wrists and hands were too small for the cuffs.
“You understand this is very serious, OK?” a second officer can be heard telling the boy as they escort him out of the building. “I hate that you put me in this position that I have to do this. OK? All right? The thing about it is you made a mistake, now it’s time to learn from it and grow from it, right? Not repeat the same mistake again, OK?”
The child’s mother, Bianca N. Digennaro, says that officers transported her son from the school to the police station, where he was fingerprinted, swabbed for DNA, and had his mug shot taken.
Authorities charged the child with felony battery in connection with the school incident. Digennaro fought for her son in court over a period of nine months until a prosecutor decided to dismiss the felony charges of battery after determinations of the child’s age and mental evaluation.
The child, now 10, is reportedly doing well despite the incident.
“I’m heartbroken this happened to my son,” Digennaro said. “I’m just here for my son because I refuse to let them make him a criminal or convicted felon at the age of eight.”
What are people saying about all this?
Attorney Ben Crump is representing the child’s mother in a reportedly forthcoming federal lawsuit claiming that the city and the school district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In a statement, Crump said, “This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals — if convicted, the child in this case would have been a convicted felon at eight years old. This little boy was failed by everyone who played a part in this horrific incident.”
The Monroe County School District issued a statement Monday, telling the Herald, “The District is not, and has not, been involved in litigation about this incident. 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.”
In a Monday statement to the Miami Herald, Key West Police Chief Sean. T Brandenburg said that his officers followed protocol and did nothing wrong in arresting the child.
The body cam footage, however, has gone viral on the internet, including on social media channels, sparking outrage over the incident as well as the very presence of police officers in elementary schools.
Video shows 8-year-old being arrested at Florida school