2021 | Police & Fire

County, union officials weigh in on police interaction with 5-year-old boy

Here are their full statements

The following are full statements from county, school and union officials about a police cam video released on Friday. The video shows two Montgomery County police officers handcuffing and screaming at a 5-year-old boy who walked away from his class last year.

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From County Council Member Will Jawando:
“Over the last three months, I have been requesting from the MCPD the body cam footage related to the 5 year old child who was detained and handcuffed by officers last year. Today, I watched a video that will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life.

I watched in horror as what can only be described as a nightmare unfolded for nearly an hour. It made me sick. We all saw a little boy be mocked, degraded, put in the back of a police car, screamed at from the top of an adult police officer’s lungs, inches from his face. This is violence.

We all saw his tiny hand in a handcuff. We all watched as administrators at best did nothing and tacitly approved the behavior of the armed officers. I watched grown adults flex and abuse their power with the crest of Montgomery County strapped to their arms. He is a 5 year old child.

There were numerous ways to have de-escalated this situation that didn’t involve repeatedly calling a young Black child a “beast,” repeatedly threatening him with physical harm, and even suggesting putting him in a crate at one point. They weaponized his mother’s nickname for him. There was no attempt to defuse this situation. Instead, we saw grown adults insult, berate, degrade, and try to instigate a kindergartener. Before our eyes, we watched a little boy be failed by every adult whose one purpose was to help him. We also see why many Black residents in Montgomery County don’t feel protected by the police.

To hear law enforcement officers so flagrantly lie about the law to encourage the beating of a child confirms many of the fears people have about law enforcement, to quote the responding police officers: “We are reiterating to you that you can beat your child in Montgomery County, in front of him and everybody else. You can beat him and please don’t leave no cuts or no crazy cigarette burns or nothing like that.” It infuriates me that I must say this but let me make it abundantly clear so there’s no room for confusion. Beating your child is against the law in Montgomery County, MD and is fundamentally wrong.

As an At-Large member of the Montgomery County Council, from the bottom of my heart and with the full weight of my office, I apologize to this little boy and his family.

The officers involved in this incident must be immediately fired and a robust investigation into both this incident and their past behavior must immediately take place. I also call on MCPS to place the administrators involved on leave pending an investigation. There must be transparency and accountability. These are immediate steps that must be taken but this video showed us raw footage of multiple of our systems failing at the same time and served as a powerful reminder of why police should not be in schools or used to discipline our children.

This underscores the importance of the work I’ve been doing with my colleagues to fundamentally reimagine public safety and policing in Montgomery County. We have worked to hold officers accountable, remove police from schools, and invest in restorative justice and mental health support for students, and more is needed. I’m calling on the Montgomery County Police, the Board of Education, and MCPS administration to do their part and take swift action.”

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From Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich:
“I found the video of the incident involving the 5-year-old child difficult to watch, and it does not reflect the training and expectations we have for our police officers. I have spoken with our Chief and directed him to revisit our training around how our officers are expected to 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. 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.

Our police officers are not social workers, psychologists, or therapists and should not be giving advice or direction on parenting. Police duties should end as soon as school personnel are present to take over care of a child.

Because the county is in a lawsuit, I am limited in what I can say, and I am not able to discuss disciplinary outcomes which have been taken.”

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From MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and school board President Brenda Wolff:
“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. As parents and grandparents, we know that when families send their children to school, they expect that the staff will care for them, keep them safe and use appropriate intervention processes when needed. In MCPS, we have a commitment to addressing the social-emotional well-being of our students, celebrating their strengths and helping them meet their full potential.

All students bring great value to our system and we honor the growth and development of every child. No child is bad. We also expect MCPS staff to follow outlined structures for student intervention and support, as well as school safety. We have asked MCPS leadership to ensure that the school system’s procedures and expectations are clear to all staff. This incident also underscores the importance of having a team of professionals in all schools to support the diverse needs of our students.

While we are unable to provide further comment on this incident due to pending litigation, we want to assure the MCPS community that we are unwavering in our commitment to ensure that all MCPS schools are safe places where students can learn, thrive and reach their highest potential.”

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From Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #35, a police union:
“Today, the Montgomery County Police Department released body worn camera video of the incident from January 14, 2020 involving a 5-year-old child. Lodge 35 is seeing the body worn camera footage at the same time as the public, and we believe the event could have been handled better by all involved.

Officers were called to assist the school with a child who ran away from school staff. Patrol officers do not receive specific training to address events like the one that occurred on January 14, 2020. Lodge 35 members that were involved cooperated with the nearly yearlong investigation and action was recently taken by the police chief to address how the event was handled.”

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From the full Montgomery County Council:
“Earlier today, the Montgomery County Police Department released body camera footage from a 2020 interaction between police officers, Montgomery County Public Schools staff and a five-year old student and his parent.

We are outraged by the conduct that we observed. The full Council offers its deepest apologies to the Grant family. This incident is absolutely unacceptable: No child, not to mention a five-year-old child, should ever be treated this way by the people tasked with keeping our communities safe.

This incident also reflects the need for increased police training on interactions with young children and de-escalating situations. While the Council cannot comment on pending litigation, this incident will inform the actions this body takes in our upcoming budget deliberations and on pending legislation. We must do better for our children, our schools, and our community.

We must also state that we do not condone the unacceptable statements made by the officers that appear to encourage child abuse. The Montgomery County Council unequivocally condemns child abuse, and no member of our government should ever encourage it.

Lastly, we are exasperated by how the Executive Branch has handled this incident. Despite repeated requests, the Montgomery County Council only received the footage of this incident 23 minutes before its release. We were blindsided by the notice of the public release and expected much greater advance notice prior to today, particularly since this incident happened over a year ago.

The footage should have also been released to the public much earlier. 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.”

Council members made remarks about this incident at the beginning of Friday’s council meeting, which can be viewed here

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From Council Member Hans Riemer:
“I am appalled by the traumatizing behavior and verbal assaults of the Montgomery County Police officers shown in the bodycam footage of an incident involving a five year old student at East Silver Spring Elementary School in January 2020.

Last Sunday, March 21st, I joined a community rally in downtown Silver Spring to raise my concerns about this specific incident and I called upon the Police Chief to take appropriate disciplinary action.

I only hope that this new footage underscores that police work has deeper challenges and that we in Montgomery County have our share of the problems that are driving the debate about police accountability. It is critical that we restore trust in policing across our community — and that will require leadership and meaningful action.

More than one year later, the lack of transparency about the disciplinary process and any resolution in this case is one more example of a disciplinary system that has been hijacked to shield police officers from accountability, in contrast to how other public employees are treated.

It is time to take up the legislation I introduced with Councilmember Rice to reform our police disciplinary system to uphold community values. I recognize that in many ways we are constrained by state law, so I hope that the state legislature will follow through on adopting the far-reaching reform that our community is asking for.

As a community and as governmental entities we need to change the way we see youth justice to emphasize restorative practices that support learning and growth. The criminal system should be a last resort.

I am glad that the legislation I am leading with Councilmember Jawando has finally led to an end of the practice of stationing police officers in schools. But our work on youth justice is far from done. It is time to focus our efforts on a restorative justice model for youth. Our children deserve nothing less.”