Montgomery County, Maryland, Council members expressed frustration in a public hearing on how police berated and handcuffed a 5-year-old boy who had walked away from his Silver Spring, Maryland, school in January 2020.
At one point during Tuesday’s hearing, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said while an incident report had been filed in January 2020, he was not aware of the severity of the incident until after the boy’s mother filed a lawsuit and news reports showed police body camera footage of the incident.
At one point in the video, police handcuffed the child, and during the 51-minute interaction, the two African American police officers — a woman and a man — screamed at the boy, called him a “beast” and told him that he should be spanked by his mother.
When they arrived at the East Silver Spring Elementary School, the female officer is heard telling the boy, who was also African American, “I hope your mama lets me beat you.”
As council members questioned Smith and Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, they were told numerous times that due to a pending lawsuit filed by the boy’s family, their questions could not be answered.
In one exchange, Council President Tom Hucker asked Jones, “Many residents have asked me why these two officers are still with the department. What should I tell them?”
“I cannot give you that answer due to pending litigation,” said Jones.
Later on, Council Member Will Jawando asked Jones a number of questions, and several times was met with the response: “Mr. Jawando, I can’t answer that question due to pending litigation.”
That led Council Member Hans Riemer to say, “The county government needs to stop hiding behind this lawsuit. What happened, happened. And what we say about it doesn’t change the facts.”
Jawando said of the incident, “This was the epitome — if you had a definition of the school-to-prison pipeline, you could slot in this 51-minute video.” Noting that many officials described the incident as a protracted event, Jawando said, “Imagine how long it was for this little boy.”
Jones explained the internal affairs investigation process to the council, and when pressed on why it took so long, he said the investigation took place “during a pandemic.”
Council members noted that the episode didn’t end once the little boy was returned to his school, as officers stayed and berated the child in front of school staff members.
Jawando asked Smith if the incident violated an agreement between police and the school system that says police are not to be involved in school discipline.
“It’s currently in the MOU that police officers are not involved in discipline,” said Smith. “That’s a fact.”
Council Member Craig Rice, a supporter of having a school resource officer (SRO) in schools, asked if the SRO assigned to the school cluster the 5-year-old attended was contacted about the incident.
Jones replied, “I can’t answer that question at this point in time.” Following his response, Rice said that clear lines have to be drawn so that similar incidents don’t happen again.
At the conclusion of the hearing, council members said they expect to have a closed-door session with police and school officials to get more information. Several others urged the police department and the school district to update their memorandum of understanding to clarify the role of police in schools.