2021 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Body cam footage shows police accosting, handcuffing, screaming at 5-year-old (VIDEO)

Family has filed lawsuit alleging false imprisonment, assault

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The Montgomery County Police Department on Friday released the body camera footage from an incident involving a 5-year-old in January 2020.

Screenshot from video

Body camera footage released by the Montgomery County Police Department on Thursday shows two officers handcuffing a 5-year-old boy and screaming in his face after he walked away from class last year.

In the 51-minute video, two officers can be seen and heard accosting the young boy on Jan. 14, 2020, as soon as they approach him, and the child becomes increasingly upset.

In a statement, Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando said he watched the video “in horror” and demanded the officers involved be “immediately fired.” He also called for an investigation into both officers’ “past behavior” and called on MCPS to place staff members involved on administrative leave and conduct an investigation.

Jawando, an outspoken advocate for police reform in Montgomery County, wrote that the boy was “failed by every adult whose purpose was to help him.”

“We also see why many Black residents in Montgomery County don’t feel protected by the police.”

A caption on the video posted to the police department’s YouTube page says both officers remain employed by the department.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and school board President Brenda Wolff wrote in a joint statement: “Our heart aches for this student.”

“We also expect MCPS staff to follow outlined structures for student intervention and support, as well as school safety,” the statement said. “We have asked MCPS leadership to ensure that the school system’s procedures and expectations are clear to all staff.”

An MCPS spokeswoman wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that the district is “conducting an internal investigation” into staff members’ involvement. No additional information was provided.

An attorney for the boy’s family declined to comment late Friday morning.

The officers involved — Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday — found the boy less than a quarter-mile from East Silver Spring Elementary School, and grabbed him by the arm and escorted him into a police car, according to the video.

Within two minutes, the boy started crying, and one officer told him to “cut it out,” then later asked, “Does your mama spank you? … She’s going to spank you today.”

Throughout the ride back to the school, the officers continued to chastise the boy and told him, “I hope your mama let me beat you.”

The boy continued to cry, at times seeming to hyperventilate. The officer responded: “Ain’t nobody want to hear that. Nobody’s even listening.”

“This is why people need to beat their kids,” one said as they arrive at school.

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

When he was seated, Holliday is shown letting out five screams inches from the boy’s face, mocking the boy’s cries.

“I need to beat on somebody,” she then said.

The officers can also be heard calling the 5-year-old a “violent little thing,” a “little beast” and “bad.”

After the boy’s mother arrived at school, she and the officers talked privately. The mother shared with the officers that she has difficulty punishing the boy.

The officers brought the child into the room, placed one handcuff around his wrist, then put both hands behind his back and said, “These are for people who don’t want to listen and don’t know how to act.”

The boy’s face is blurred in the video.

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

In a statement, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich wrote that the video was “difficult to watch, and it does not reflect the training and expectations we have for our police officers.”

Elrich wrote that he has asked Police Chief Marcus Jones to implement training “to help officers reflect on their own views and experiences of how children should be treated.”

The police department did not respond to Bethesda Beat’s request to interview Jones on Friday.

The union representing Montgomery County police wrote in a statement Friday afternoon: “We believe the event could have been handled better by all involved.”

The statement says officers do not receive training “to address events like the one that occurred on January 14, 2020.”

The video was released publicly two months after Bethesda Beat reported that the boy’s family filed a lawsuit alleging the officers assaulted the child and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. The suit also alleges two counts of false imprisonment and that the school district did not provide adequate supervision of the child.

Bethesda Beat had filed a public records request for the video in January under the Maryland Public Information Act. Under state law, governments have up to 30 days to provide information or deny the request. The police department did not respond until Friday afternoon, saying it was denying the request. However, the department had already released the video publicly.

“This is an open investigation. Information is not available at this time. I would recommend calling our office to see the updated status,” the denial message said.

Dozens attended a protest on Sunday in Silver Spring about the incident.

In an interview in January, attorneys for the family — Matthew Bennett and James Papirmeister — said they have never seen a case with a 5-year-old who was treated like this.

“It’s 50 minutes of trauma to a little kid. That’s what it boils down to,” Bennett said at the time.

Papirmeister said the family hopes the lawsuit forces the police department to train officers to ensure “no other 5-year-old child is traumatized.”

The boy is now afraid of police officers and requires counseling, he said.

“It’s not our job to get people fired, but it is our job to make sure … other officers know you can’t do whatever you want,” Papirmeister said in January.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for late October. The family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

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To read full statements from county, school and union officials about the footage and the original incident, click here.