2021 | Government

Council president wants county to settle, not fight, suit alleging police harassment of 5-year-old boy

Family alleges child was assaulted, falsely imprisoned after walking away from school

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Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said the county should settle a lawsuit — rather than fighting it — stemming from an incident in which two police officers are accused of harassing, threatening and assaulting a 5-year-old boy.

As a guest on “The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi” on WAMU on Friday, Hucker called the incident “abuse” of the child, and said he does not believe the county should fight the lawsuit filed in January. He said he has asked the county’s attorneys instead to work toward a settlement.

“I think we should settle the lawsuit. These people were harmed, and they were harmed by our officers,” Hucker said. “… We can’t change the past, but we should try what we can to make them whole.”

He said he has apologized to the boy’s family.

Asked about his comment during a press conference on Monday, Hucker said he didn’t want to elaborate much because the decision about how to move forward with the lawsuit is up to the county executive.

But, he reiterated his opinion that “the county should acknowledge its role and move on.”
He declined to say what he believes might be a fair settlement in the case.

A spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich acknowledged receiving a request for comment on Monday afternoon, but did not immediately provide a response.

An MCPS spokeswoman also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sidney Katz, who is chair of the County Council’s Public Safety Committee, said he respects Hucker’s opinion that the case should be settled, but deferred to the county attorney’s office for any further comment.

“That’s always been my style. … Once something is filed or [in] the prep of being filed, at that point, then the attorneys need to be the ones handing any comment on it,” Katz said.

The county attorney’s office could not be reached for comment on Monday.

In January 2020, two Montgomery County police officers responded to a call that a 5-year-old boy had left East Silver Spring Elementary School.

The officers have been identified in court filings as Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday.
Within two minutes of arriving on the scene — less than a quarter-mile from the school — and approaching the boy, one officer is stern with the boy, who is quiet and hesitant to answer questions.

The boy begins to cry and becomes increasingly upset, screaming and appearing to hyperventilate. Christmon grabs the boy’s arm and escorts him into a police car. He then drives him and the school’s assistant principal, Justine Pfeiffer, who was present throughout, back to the school.

At the school, the police told the boy to sit in a chair. When the boy hesitates, one officer picks him up and puts him in the chair. The boy again becomes upset and cries as the officers forcefully tell him to “shut that noise up.”

When the boy is seated, Holliday is shown letting out five screams inches from the boy’s face, mocking the 5-year-old’s cries.

“I need to beat on somebody,” she then said, one of several references the officers make to “beating” children or the boy.

After the boy’s mother arrives, the officers bring them both into a conference room and have a brief conversation in which they tell the mother she can legally “beat” the child.

Hucker mentioned that detail on “The Politics Hour,” noting that the officers are “actually coaching his mother on how to beat him in ways that don’t trigger a child-abuse investigation.”

Then, Christmon placed one handcuff around the boy’s wrist and put both of the boy’s hands behind his back, as part of an attempt to scare him into better behavior.

Fourteen months after the incident, the police department released a 51-minute video showing what happened.

A year after the incident, in January 2021, the boy’s family filed a lawsuit against the officers, school system and county government, alleging assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, violation of rights, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

Bethesda Beat reported on the lawsuit shortly after it was filed. Hucker said on “The Politics Hour” that the County Council might not have known about it otherwise.

The police department has said that the officers are still on the job and has not publicly stated what disciplinary action was taken against them.

In a response filed this month to the lawsuit, Christmon and Holliday admitted to nearly all of the quotes attributed to them in the lawsuit and documented on video, but repeatedly alleged “facts, statements and information material to a complete and accurate depiction of the events” are omitted. They did not specify what had been omitted.

The officers denied threatening the boy, mistreating him, or acting in a way that necessitated that the boy receive “protection” from them. The lawsuit had alleged that school officials who were present should have protected the boy from the officers’ treatment.

In a separate court filing, the Montgomery County Board of Education asked that allegations that school staff members were negligent and violated the boy’s rights be dismissed.

The school board also argues that the family does not prove that the failure of officials to keep the boy in the school is what caused harm to the boy. School employees could not have “reasonably anticipated the behavior of the officers,” the district said in its response.

Bethesda Beat Reporter Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com