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Bad Cop Blotter

Arresting Children Is Now Commonplace in America

Putting police in schools was supposed to make kids safer, but instead it's resulted in a children and teens being handcuffed.

Police officers in a school where hopefully no children will be getting handcuffed. Photo via Flickr user reway2007

A week ago, the Oregonian reported on how, last year, Portlander Latoya Harris’s nine-year-old daughter was arrested a week after she got into a fight with another little girl outside a Boys & Girls Club. The kid was sent home and suspended from the club for a week, which seems appropriate—but then a mom called the cops after she saw a bruise on her daughter's cheek. That led to officers David McCarthy and Matthew Huspek interrogating Harris's daughter, whom they clearly had no business interacting with.


According to McCarthy's official report, the girl “gave vague answers” and her account of the incident was “inconsistent” with those of witnesses. Anyone who has dealt with a nine-year-old will recognize this stuff as totally normal, but the officers decided it was enough to put the little girl—who was still wearing her swimsuit—in handcuffs and take her downtown for booking on charges of fourth-degree assault. Adding insult to injury, her mother was not permitted to accompany her in the car and had to take a bus to the police station.

The local DA never brought charges after all that—PROBABLY BECAUSE THIS IS A CHILD WE’RE TALKING ABOUT—but Harris says her daughter was not the same after the arrest. Her complaints to the Independent Police Review Division went nowhere, so she went public with her story, but apparently, the arresting officers violated no laws. If you’re taking a suspect, into custody you’re supposed to cuff them, and a juvenile arrested for a felony or a class-A misdemeanor—like fourth-degree assault—is supposed to be cuffed and fingerprinted under current Oregon law. (The media backlash has led to talk of changing the law slightly.)

This sort of incident is noteworthy and undoubtedly fucked-up, but it’s certainly not the first time a little kid has been mistreated by the cops. Last year, the NYPD arrested and cuffed a second grader for stealing five bucks from a classmate, four Baltimore kids under ten were arrested in 2012 for fighting, and just two weeks ago, a seven-year-old was reportedly cuffed at his Kansas City school after he became upset about teasing and screamed.


You can blame these types of stories on the increased police presence in schools—the idea was that they’d protect students, but as a 2013 New York Times article noted, the officers tend to arrest and charge children and teens who run afoul of the law thanks to basic my-brain-isn’t-done-developing-yet stuff like fighting, truancy, and sassing back to teachers. Children misbehaving is a fact of life, but it has been turned into a criminal matter. Our society has completely lost the ability to tell the difference between “that’s bad, I’ll scold my child” and “Call the police!”

America may not be quite a police state in the way many alarmists use the term, but this normalization of law enforcement becoming involved in every step of social interaction is not a good sign.

On to the bad cops of the week:

–The NYPD has launched a campaign against subway performers—at least 46 breakdancers were arrested and charged with reckless endangerment in the first three months of 2014. Some New Yorkers love the “ladies and gentlemen… It’s showtime!” kids, and some hate them; either way, they mostly ignore them. But in any case, this crackdown is clearly part of a revival of the failed “broken windows” theory of policing. New York City cops should have more important things to do than book teenagers who are dancing for a few bucks.

–OK, here’s a more important thing: A bunch of moms held a rally in Manhattan two days before Mother’s Day to protest the death of their sons at the hands of the NYPD. This event brought together the moms of Ramarley Graham (an unarmed teenager killed in the Bronx in 2012) and Amadou Diallo (who was shot at 41 times by officers in 1999 and the subject of a Springsteen song), and others with similar heartbreaking stories. All are advocating for the Department of Justice to take an interest in stopping the NYPD from killing again. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told the press he felt bad for the families, but most of those incidents were “exhaustively” investigated. “While I empathize with the families of the deceased, a significant number of those instances, I’m sorry their loved ones were engaged in significant criminal activity,” Bratton added. That’s a nasty thing to say to Diallo’s mom, since her son was never charged with a crime—and the officers who killed him were acquitted of all charges. Just say you’re sorry and leave it at that, dude.


–Another thing the NYPD should stop doing is raiding homes of dead guys. Karen Fennell’s husband died in 2006, but the cops keep busting in trying to arrest him—the Brooklyn woman claims they’ve come by four times in the last year. She even put her husband’s death certificate outside the door, but they ignored it. Her son was arrested after one of these raids for possessing a pocket knife, though those charges were dropped. Fennell has sued 20 unnamed officers for planting evidence, racial profiling, unlawful-stop-and-frisk, and excessive force.

–An allegedly loud and belligerent Massachusetts woman was arrested for secretly recording her interactions with the police on May 4. Karen Dziewit, 24, was being loud and drunk at 2 AM in Chicopee, and a cop named Harry Kastrinakis took the call and eventually brought her in for refusing to stop disturbing the building’s other tenants. So far so normal—but once her purse was opened at the police station and they discovered Dziewit’s phone had been recording everything, a charge of unlawful wiretapping was added to the open container and disorderly conduct charges. Massachusetts is a two-party-consent state—meaning you can’t secretly record anyone—but there are plenty of reasons for every interaction with the cops to be recorded, and doing so shouldn’t ever lead to punishment.

–In other recording-the-cops news, an officer Jennings of Prince William County, Virginia, threatened a man at a Manassis McDonald’s with arrest because he was filming an arrest of another patron. In the video, Jennings gets pissed at the filmer for interfering with police business, though he had been keeping himself a reasonable distance away. The man tries to assert his right to film things happening in a public place, and Jennings threatens him with loitering charges, but then demands that he go back inside the McDonald’s. Youtube user isai cruz uploaded the video on Saturday, and the Prince William County PD has already responded with a vague statement about how it will “strive to do better.”

–In a May 7 piece, VICE News's Alice Speri looked at a new report by the American Immigration Council that details some 800 majorly disturbing allegations of abuse by Border Patrol agents against immigrants. These include pepper-spraying and kicking handcuffed detainees, leaving them naked in cells, and even sexual abuse. These allegations are horrific, but the people behind the report say there are probably even more cases of abuse that are not reported by immigrants too scared to go to the authorities.

–A few weeks ago, a Sumter, Oregon, police officer responded to a call from a 13-year-old named Cameron Simmons who had phoned the police, upset after fighting with his mother and not wanting to return home. The cop, Gaetano Acerra, then took the kid home, but when he saw the teen was sleeping on an air mattress and didn’t have much of what you could call a bedroom, he bought Simmons a bed, a Wii, a desk, and a chair. He also told Simmons to call him any time he needed to talk to someone. Instead of responding like a law-and-order robot, Acerra responded to a Simmons like a human being, making him our Good Cop of the Week.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter.