KEY WEST, Fla. — A civil rights lawyer plans to sue the police and school district in Key West over the arrest of a crying 8-year-old boy accused of punching a teacher. Police video of the 2018 arrest, posted on social media by the lawyer, shows officers lecturing the boy and escorting him out on a felony battery charge.
Tallahassee attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement on Twitter that he and civil rights attorney Devon Jacobs plan to file a federal lawsuit this week against the police department and the Monroe County School District. They were retained by the boy’s mother, Bianca N. Digennaro.
“Unbelievable!! @KWPOLICE used “scared straight” tactics on 8yo boy with special needs. He’s 3.5 ft tall and 64 lbs, but they thought it was appropriate to handcuff and transport him to an adult prison for processing!! He was so small the cuffs fell off his wrists!” Crump tweeted.
Key West Police Chief Sean T. Brandenburg said in a statement Monday that his officers did nothing wrong: “Based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed,” he said.
The video was posted Monday by Crump, whose client list of people alleging police abuse has grown since he began representing the family of George Floyd, the Black man who died at the hands of a Minneapolis officer in May.
Crump accused the officers of trying to “shame and terrify the small child,” who he said had behavioural and emotional disabilities.
The Miami Herald reported that the incident in Grace Adams Elementary School began when the boy was not sitting properly on his cafeteria bench seat, and a teacher asked him several times to sit down out of concerns for his safety.
According to School Resource Officer Michael Malgrat’s arrest report, which the newspaper obtained, the teacher then told the boy to set next to her, and he refused, saying “Don’t put your hands on me.” Then she told him to walk with her, and the boy said, “My mom is going to beat your a—,” and punched her with his right hand.
Malgrat, who was in the school’s administrative office when the teacher and the boy arrived, wrote that the boy “had his hands clenched into fists and he was postured as if he was ready to fight.” Two more officers were called, and they lectured him in a hallway before booking him into Key West’s juvenile justice facility on a felony battery charge.
The video footage shows officers telling the sobbing boy that he’s “going to jail.” They frisk him and then have him experience the feeling of metal handcuffs, which were too big for his wrists.
“You understand this is very serious, OK? I hate that you had to put me into this position to do this. The thing about it is, you made a mistake. Now it’s time for you to learn about it and to grow from it, not repeat the same mistake again,” one of the officers says as they escort him out.
The Monroe County School District said it can’t comment because of the possible legal action. “The District is not, and has not, been involved in litigation about this incident,” an emailed statement reads.
Associated Press, The Associated Press