“We are dismayed that there would even be the possibility of no disciplinary action on behalf of an officer, especially since the process of investigation and discipline is totally controlled by the Grand Rapids Police Department,” Rev. Jerry Bishop of LifeQuest Ministries told Grand Rapids news station WOOD-TV.
Police Chief David Rahinsky said in a Facebook statement that the department is looking to take steps “to ensure equitable outcomes in our interactions with the community.”
The results of the investigation come as police across the nation are under increased scrutiny for violent interactions. So far this year, 926 people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Of those, nearly a quarter — 212 people — were black. In 2016, 963 people were killed by police, 24 percent of them black.
The latest uproar emerged on Dec. 6, when officers were searching for a woman named Carrie Manning, suspected of stabbing her younger sister. Instead, at a nearby home, they came upon Honestie Hodges, who is the suspect’s niece. She had been walking out the door on the way to the store with her mother and another aunt. Manning is a 40-year-old white woman, according to the news station. Honestie is an 11-year-old black girl.
The 45-second video released by police last week picked up as Honestie approached a pair of officers with her arms raised. One pointed a gun at her.
He began to tell her to put her hands on her head, then instructed her to turn around and walk backward toward him.
Her mother yelled for the officers to stop, telling them Honestie was 11 years old.
The moment intensified when Honestie reached the officers. One told her to “put your right hand behind your back” and ratcheted open a pair of handcuffs.
Honestie began whining, then screaming in terror: “No. No. No! No!”
One of the officers handcuffing her tried to calm her: “You’re not going to jail or anything,” but the screams continued as the video clip ended.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Honestie told Grand Rapids Fox affiliate WXMI after the incident. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve never got in trouble by the Grand Rapids Police. I used to want to be a Grand Rapids police officer, but ever since that happened, I want nothing to do with them.”
Upon announcing the department’s internal investigation last week, Rahinsky said the video made him sick.
“You listen to the 11-year-old’s response, it makes my stomach turn,” he said. “It makes me physically nauseous.”
He said he believed the officers behaved incorrectly and instead should have “asked the 11-year-old to back to you, take her behind the car and have a very different conversation with her.”
“Are there incidents where you deal with young people who present a danger to either other people or themselves? Yes,” he told reporters. “But I don’t believe this is one of them.”
But on Wednesday, police said in the statement that the internal investigation found that the officers did not violate department policy.
The department hopes to prevent similar incidents in the future with the creation of the “Honestie policy,” which will require officers to get to know the kids on their beats by interacting with them at community programs, such as the Grand Rapids Area Boys and Girls Clubs. Lieutenants trained in “cultural competency” and de-escalation techniques will be added to patrol shifts, police said.
Officers will additionally receive training in dynamic scenarios involving children — which police said is “not standard for police agencies across the country.”
“We are confident that this introspection and these new measures will lead to tangible outcomes, making a real and lasting difference in our community,” Rahinsky said in the statement.
The incident with Honestie is the second time officers in Grand Rapids have pointed guns at innocent black children. In March, officers received a call about a fight at a neighborhood center in which one of the suspects may have had a gun, according to the Grand Rapids Press.
Neither Honestie nor her mother, Whitney Hodges, could be immediately reached for comment on the department’s announcements.
Rahinsky last week in some ways defended his officers’ actions, saying they were searching for a person they believe tried to kill someone and were approaching with extreme caution. He said it’s not unusual for a crime suspect to ask an innocent party — even a child — to hold a weapon, hoping that person won’t be searched.