A video showing Sacramento police placing a “spit hood” over a 12-year-old boy’s head during an arrest has led to further criticism of a department already under scrutiny following the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police in March 2018.
Though the arrest happened in April, the video has gained traction in recent days as a lawyer for the boy called attention to the case and the family demanded an apology and an inquiry from the department. The Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday that police had launched a broad review of the case.
Police said in a statement that the boy spat on an officer while being arrested on the evening of April 28, which led them to use a mesh hood that would prevent him from continuing to do so. The boy was released to his mother following the incident but was cited with battery against a police officer and resisting arrest.
A lawyer for the family maintains that the boy did nothing to justify his arrest, and the use of the hood was extreme.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate procedure to put a bag over that child’s head even if that child were to spit at that officer,” said Mark T. Harris of the Ben Crump law firm, who also represented Clark’s family.
Harris said that the boy “had visions of Eric Garner in his head” while underneath the spit hood, a reference to an unarmed black man who died in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by a member of the New York Police Department, and whose pleas of “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It shouldn’t have happened, it shouldn’t have got this far, and I want justice, I want justice for African-American girls and boys,” said the boy’s mother, LaToya Downs, according to a Sacramento CBS affiliate.
The Washington Post does not name suspects under the age of 18 unless a judge or magistrate has ordered that they be tried as adults.
Spit hoods are used to protect officers from fluids that may be projected by people under arrest, but critics say they are dehumanizing. A debate over their use in Britain went on for several months before it was decided in February that London’s Metropolitan Police officers would be able to use them, the BBC reported. In December 2018, Berkeley, Calif., police said they were reviewing the use of spit hoods during arrests.
The 25-minute video, posted to the Black Lives Matter Sacramento page on May 7, shows a portion of the incident.
It begins as the boy is being held against the wall of what appears to be a Wienerschnitzel hot dog restaurant by two officers, an employee of the fast-food chain, and a man who appears to be a private security guard. The boy asks repeatedly why he is being arrested and calls for his mother as an officer places him in handcuffs. He struggles and is eventually pulled toward a police car by an officer and the guard, while he and a bystander demand his parents be called.
About two minutes into the video, a female officer can be seen from behind as she wipes her face, and the boy says, “Yeah, I spit on y’all.”
The boy is then forced to the ground, where he is made to lie on his stomach. More officers arrive and one places the spit hood over the boy’s head while bystanders object. The hood remains on his head as he is placed in a police car.
Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison told The Washington Post that the video was filmed by an adult who was friends with the boy’s family and provided to the chapter by the boy’s grandmother.
A police body camera video released by the department Wednesday depicts the incident at closer range. The boy breathes rapidly and asks why he’s being arrested. “You can’t do this. ... Let me go!” he tells the officers. About three minutes into the video, a spitting noise is heard.
“That’s [expletive] it,” a female officer says. “He just spit on me.”
Harris denied the boy spat on officers.
In a statement released Wednesday, Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn said, “Our officers involved in this incident appropriately used a spit mask to protect themselves and defuse the situation."
The videos do not capture what led to the boy’s arrest. Harris said the boy was attending a nearby carnival with his sister and an adult chaperone that evening, and the adult had asked him to get change from his car to use at the fair. The boy obliged, but Harris said a security guard grew suspicious and gave chase.
In a Wednesday release, police said two patrolling officers saw the boy running from a security guard near the intersection of Del Paso Boulevard and El Camino Avenue and went to assist.
Faison said this latest incident would further erode trust between Sacramento police and the city’s black community. In March, county officials announced there would be no charges for two officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard.
The decision sparked a fresh wave of protests, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called for “systematic change" in the state’s criminal justice system. The state assembly is also considering legislation that seeks to redefine the circumstances in which police are justified in using deadly force.
“It was unbelievable to me,” Faison said of the video, “and at the same time it wasn’t.”