But when one male officer and one female officer arrived on Jan. 14, 2020, body-camera footage showed them repeatedly threatening and mocking the boy. “I don’t care if you don’t want to go to school,” one officer could be heard telling the child. “You do not have that choice. Do you understand? Get back over there! Now!” The cop then grabbed the child’s arm and started pulling him back in the direction of the school. When he started to cry, the female cop yelled: “There is no crying!” The other officer on the scene added: “Cut it out!” At one point in the encounter, the female officer asked the child if his mother spanked him, and the other officer responded “probably not.” “She’s gonna spank you today. I’m gonna ask her if I can do it,” the female cop said.
At another point in the encounter, one of the officers said: “Shut that noise up now! I hope your momma let me beat you.”
When the child’s mother arrived she told officers she does not beat her child because it’s illegal. She removed his shirt to prove that she doesn’t, and the female cop responded: “We want you to beat him.” She went on to explain to the mother that while she can’t use a weapon, “you can smack that butt, repeatedly.”
When the officers, the mother and her child move to a conference room, the male cop handcuffed one of the child’s arms and told him: “When you get older and you want to make your own decisions, you know what’s going to be your best friend? These right here—you know what these are? These are handcuffs. These are for people who don’t want to listen and don’t know how to act.”
The Montgomery County Police Department said in a statement released with the body-camera footage on YouTube Friday that the department conducted a “thorough investigation” of the incident. “The internal investigation has concluded. The findings of this internal investigation, as in all internal matters, are confidential under Maryland law. Both officers remain employed by the Montgomery County Department of Police,” police said in the statement. “Due to pending litigation, the Department has no further comment.” The officers’ names have not been released.
WARNING: This video contains content that may be triggering for some.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith and school board President Brenda Wolff similarly released a statement on Friday. “It was extremely difficult for us to watch the video of the incident involving a 5-year-old student at East Silver Spring Elementary School. Our heart aches for this student,” they said. “There is no excuse for adults to ever speak to or threaten a child in this way.”
Smith and Wolff added in the statement:
“As parents and grandparents, we know that when families send their children to school, they expect that the staff will care for them, keep them safe and use appropriate intervention processes when needed. In MCPS, we have a commitment to addressing the social-emotional well-being of our students, celebrating their strengths and helping them meet their full potential. All students bring great value to our system and we honor the growth and development of every child. No child is bad. We also expect MCPS staff to follow outlined structures for student intervention and support, as well as school safety. We have asked MCPS leadership to ensure that the school system’s procedures and expectations are clear to all staff. This incident also underscores the importance of having a team of professionals in all schools to support the diverse needs of our students.
While we are unable to provide further comment on this incident due to pending litigation, we want to assure the MCPS community that we are unwavering in our commitment to ensure that all MCPS schools are safe places where students can learn, thrive and reach their highest potential.”
Councilmember Nancy Navarro told WTOP-FM police video of the incident should have been shared with the council long ago. “This council should have received this footage and should have been given ample time and we have been requesting this, so this is also a real concern regarding the way the administration handled this particular footage,” she said. “As a mother, and also as a resident of this county, this leaves a lot to be desired.”
Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando, an advocate for police reform, told WTOP the encounter pointed to “a complete failure of our system.” “You just have to be horrified—horrified and, frankly, disgusted—with the failures of multiple adults, multiple systems—the school system, the police department—to protect this child, who’s a kindergartner, a 5-year-old who wandered off and was berated for almost an hour,” Jawando said. “Handcuffed and called ‘nasty,’ and yelled at, screamed at. He’s crying.
“No person should ever be treated that way, let alone a 5-year-old … who was not developmentally able to withstand that type of abuse.” Jawando called for the officers involved to be fired in a Facebook post on Saturday. He told the AP the video made him sick. “We all saw a little boy be mocked, degraded, put in the seat of a police car, screamed at from the top of an adult police officer’s lungs, inches from his face,” he said. “This is violence.”
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement the AP obtained on Friday that he told the police chief to re-train officers interacting with children. “Our police officers are not social workers, psychologists, or therapists and should not be giving advice or direction on parenting,” he said in the statement. “Police duties should end as soon as school personnel are present to take over care of a child.”