Leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, are expressing strong opinions about the recently-released video of two officers from the Montgomery County Police Department yelling at and handcuffing a 5-year-old boy who had walked out of his school and did not want to return.
The near-hour-long video shows body camera footage of two African American officers — one male and one female — interacting with a 5-year-old African American boy who left the grounds of East Silver Spring Elementary School and refused to return on Jan. 14, 2020.
In the video, school staff explain to officers that he had allegedly thrown a basketball at an instructor and knocked over a computer before walking out of the school.
A staff member from the school contacted the police and asked for their assistance. Less than two minutes into the footage, the male officer is heard yelling at the boy.
“I don’t care if you don’t want to go to school — you do not have that choice, do you understand?” the officer says to the boy, before he shifts to a more aggressive tone. “Get back over there! Now!”
When the boy does not immediately respond, the officer grabs him by the arm and begins walking him back to the school. The boy begins to cough and cry hysterically, and the officers scold him.
“There is no crying!” the female officer yells to the boy.
The male officer, who has the boy by the arm, tells him: “Cut it out!”
Warning: Some viewers may find the video disturbing
The boy is then placed in the back of a police vehicle. The female officer asks: “Does your mama spank you?” and the other officer responds: “Probably not.” The female officer then says: “She’s gonna spank you today — I’m gonna ask her if I can do it.”
Back at the school, the child continues to cry loudly. The female officer is seen getting into his face and screaming loudly at him, apparently mocking his sobs.
When the boy’s mother arrives, she tells the officers that she does not beat her kid because it is against the law, and that she did not want to lose him to the system.
She then removes the boy’s shirt to prove to the officers he was not being physically abused at home. The male officers tell her “we believe it’s the exact opposite.” The female officers says: “We want you to beat him.”
The female officer then tells the mother that she can’t use a weapon to beat him, but “you can smack that butt, repeatedly.”
Later, the officers, the boy and his mother go into a conference room, where the male officer puts a handcuff on one of the boys’ arms and tells him: “When you get older and you want to make your own decisions, you know what’s going to be your best friend?” and holds up the cuffs. “These right here — you know what these are? These are handcuffs.”
He adds, “These are for people who don’t want to listen and don’t know how to act.”
The officers then remove the cuffs and further discuss the boy’s behavior with his mother.
The boy’s mother, Shanta Grant, has filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Public School system and the county police department over the incident.
The police department said that after the complaint was lodged, an internal investigation was conducted into the matter. They did not release the findings of the investigation, saying that all internal matters are confidential under Maryland law, but both officers are still employed by the Montgomery County Police Department.
Montgomery County Public Schools said they could not comment fully on the incident because of pending litigation, but offered their sympathies for the boy in the video.
“It was extremely difficult for us to watch the video of the incident involving a 5-year-old student at East Silver Spring Elementary School. Our heart aches for this student. There is no excuse for adults to ever speak to or threaten a child in this way,” the statement reads.
The school system also said it expected school staff to “follow outlined structures for student intervention and support, as well as school safety.”
Community leaders react
Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando, an outspoken proponent of police reform and a critic of police involvement inside schools, told WTOP the incident showed “a complete failure of our system.”
“You just have to be horrified — horrified and, frankly, disgusted — with the failures of multiple adults, multiple systems — the school system, the police department — to protect this child, who’s a kindergartner, a 5-year-old who wandered off and was berated for almost an hour,” Jawando said. “Handcuffed and called ‘nasty,’ and yelled at, screamed at. He’s crying.”
Jawando added: “No person should ever be treated that way, let alone a 5-year-old … who was not developmentally able to withstand that type of abuse.”
Jawando once again called for an overhaul of the public safety and policing system in the county. He said officers should not be in schools or be the primary responders to incidents like the one that occurred in January 2020.
He said the video provides a prime example of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“Almost from the beginning — it turns within 30 seconds of the interaction and you can see (the boy is) frightened out of his life,” he said. “But then it becomes a negative, enforcement-based, and frankly … cruel interaction.”
Jawando said Black boys are often seen as older, more dangerous and less innocent than kids of other ethnicities. He said that treatment is on full display in the video.
“That is certainly what happened here — all the way to the point of ‘you’re going to end up in jail … let me show you at 5 years old what it looks like to put handcuffs on you and what’s in your future,'” he said. “If that’s not the school-to-prison pipeline, I don’t know what is.”
He also said the race of the officers does not matter in incidents like this.
“The biases … based on white supremacy and criminalization and the stereotypes that accompany Black and brown children in particular have permeated everybody and no one is immune to them,” he said.
Council member Nancy Navarro said that accountability was needed, and that the footage should have been made available sooner.
“This council should have received this footage and should have been given ample time and we have been requesting this, so this is also a real concern regarding the way the administration handled this particular footage,” she said. “As a mother, and also as a resident of this county, this leaves a lot to be desired.”
In a joint statement released Friday, the council said it asked County Executive Marc Elrich for access to the bodycam footage repeatedly, but was only given access around the same time it was made available to the public.
“We also believe that our community deserved to hear directly from our County Executive about what actions the administration plans to take to make sure a situation like this never happens ever again.”
In response to the video, Elrich said in a statement that he found the video “difficult to watch,” while adding that it does not reflect the training and expectations the county has for its police officers. Elrich also said he spoke to police Chief Marcus Jones about revisiting police training around how officers interact with children.
“I also have asked that we add training to help officers reflect on their own views and experiences of how children should be treated,” Elrich said. “This is consistent with our instructions to officers that they must leave their personal views at home when they are performing their duties as a police officer.”
Elrich said police duties should end once school personnel are present to take over care of a child, adding that officers are “are not social workers, psychologists, or therapists and should not be giving advice or direction on parenting.”
Due to the lawsuit, Elrich said he cannot comment on disciplinary outcomes for the officers.