2021 | Schools

Administrator switches schools amid controversy over police treatment of boy

Former East Silver Spring assistant principal now at Thurgood Marshall Elementary

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A former administrator at East Silver Spring Elementary School who was investigated for her role in an incident in which a 5-year-old was berated and handcuffed by police has begun a new job at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Gaithersburg.

In April, Assistant Principal Justine Pfeiffer was put on administrative leave as the school district investigated its staff members’ involvement in the incident, which was caught on police body camera footage and sparked widespread outrage.

In an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday afternoon, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala confirmed that Pfeiffer is now an assistant principal at Marshall Elementary. She began in the new position on Thursday.

Onijala wrote that the district’s investigation into the incident is ongoing, adding, “I can’t comment specifically on how it relates to Ms. Pfeiffer.”

On Jan. 14, 2020, Officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday responded to a call that the 5-year-old boy had left East Silver Spring Elementary School.

Within two minutes of arriving on the scene — less than a quarter-mile from the school —Christmon is stern with the boy, who is quiet and hesitant to answer questions.

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

At the school, the police told the boy to sit down in a chair. When he 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 he 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 made to “beating” children or the boy.

After the boy’s mother arrives, the officers bring them both into a conference room. After a brief conversation in which they tell the mother she can legally “beat” the child, an officer places one handcuff around the boy’s wrist and put both hands behind his back.

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

Throughout the video, MCPS staff members can be seen standing by and talking about the boy’s disciplinary history.

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

Some county officials, including County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council President Tom Hucker, have said the county should aim to settle the lawsuit, rather than fight it in court.

Attorneys representing the family have said they would consider settling the case.

Pfeiffer is named in the lawsuit and was allegedly present throughout the incident.

After an internal investigation, both officers involved remain employed. The department has said that the officers faced discipline, but has declined to say what it was.

During a hearing with the County Council about the incident in April, Police Chief Marcus Jones said both officers remain in positions in which they could respond to similar situations.

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