Abandoning the cuffs, the officer tells the boy to put his hands in front of him as they escort him to the police car parked outside.
“You understand this is very serious, okay? I hate that you put me in this position and that I have to do this, okay?” a second officer says.
The boy’s 2018 arrest for allegedly hitting a teacher in his Key West, Fla., school, received renewed attention on Monday when body-camera footage of the incident posted by attorney Ben Crump went viral on Twitter. The two-minute clip had racked up more than 2 million views as of early Tuesday.
“Unbelievable!!" Crump tweeted. "@KWPOLICE used ‘scared straight’ tactics on 8yo boy with special needs.”
The Key West Police Department defended the conduct of its officers in a brief statement.
“Based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed,” Key West Police Chief Sean T. Brandenburg told The Washington Post in a statement.
Amid mass protests this year, interactions between police and minors have drawn increased scrutiny. Last week, police in Aurora, Colo., apologized after officers ordered four Black children at gunpoint to lie face down, handcuffing two of them, after mistakenly pulling over their car. In February, footage of an Orlando police officer arresting a 6-year-old girl using a zip tie ignited national outrage. The officer was fired for violating policy.
The Key West boy, who has not been publicly identified because he is a minor, was arrested on Dec. 14, 2018, at Gerald Adams Elementary, according to an arrest report reviewed by the Miami Herald.
Police said the incident began when a teacher noticed the boy was sitting improperly at a lunch table. When the teacher asked him to sit next to her, she said he refused, saying, “Don’t put your hands on me.”
The report said the teacher took the boy on a walk, during which he allegedly cursed at her and punched her. She then took him to the office, where Officer Michael Malgrat, who wrote the report, said the boy “had his hands clenched into fists and he was postured as if he was ready to fight.”
But Crump said the boy had emotional and behavioral disabilities that were neglected during the incident. Despite having an individualized educational program, the school placed him with a substitute teacher “who had no awareness or concern about his needs,” Crump said in a news release. Crump alleged the teacher “escalated the situation by using her hands to forcibly move him.”
Crump also called the video of the arrest “disturbing.” At one point, as an officer prepares to handcuff the boy, another warns him that the boy’s wrists are probably too small. A third officer can be heard telling the boy it’s his fault the officers have to arrest him.
The video then shows the boy being escorted to a police car. The boy was taken to a juvenile justice facility in Key West, the Herald reported. Crump said he was then charged with felony battery. It’s not clear how the case was resolved.
The boy’s lawyer claimed the officers used “scared straight” tactics, a type of program designed to warn juveniles about staying away from future criminal activity by emphasizing severe consequences. Such programs have long drawn scrutiny from child advocates, who say it is not effective to dehumanize and intimidate students.
“This little boy didn’t pose a threat to anyone,” Crump said.
Crump said he plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Bianca N. Digennaro, the boy’s mother, against the officers, school officials, the Monroe County School District and the city of Key West.
The Monroe County School District and the city of Key West have yet to comment on the case.
“This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals,” Crump said. “This boy was failed by everyone who played a part in this horrific incident.”