County Lawyers Ready to Deal with Police Abuse of 5-Year-Old

Both sides of a lawsuit that alleges two police officers mistreated a 5-year-old boy after he walked away from his elementary school say they are ready to negotiate a settlement.

In January, the boy’s family filed a lawsuit against the county and the school board, alleging that police harassed, threatened and assaulted the boy.

Several weeks after the complaint was filed, the police department released body camera footage of an officer that shows officers yelling at the child, calling him by names like “little beast” and “bad”. yelling in his face, placing handcuffs around a wrist and coaching his mother on how to “beat” him without getting in trouble. For much of the video, the boy cries, sometimes hysterically.

The lawsuit and the video have sparked outrage from people across the country, including Montgomery County Council Chairman Tom Hucker, who this month said he believes the county should settle the lawsuit rather than fighting it.

“These people were injured, and they were injured by our officers,” Hucker said at the time. “… We cannot change the past, but we should try what we can to make them whole.”

He said, however, that the county council did not have the power to settle the lawsuits. That direction must come from the county executive, he said.

Asked about the lawsuit on a call with reporters this week, Montgomery County Director Marc Elrich said he would be “absolutely” willing to negotiate a settlement with the family.

“I haven’t seen a settlement proposal brought to my attention by the family,” Elrich said. “But I’m probably of the same mindset: I think it’s better settled than continued, but you can’t settle without someone saying, ‘This is our proposed settlement. ”

In an interview on Friday morning, lawyers for the family said they were also ready to settle the lawsuit.

“Of course, we are always ready to engage in settlement discussions,” said attorney James Papirmeister. “We welcome the news from the county in this regard. ”

He and his co-counsel Matthew Bennett declined to comment on what they believe is an appropriate settlement amount.

In an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday, Hucker reiterated that he believed the county “should apologize to the family, acknowledge the harm done by our agents, and come to a financial settlement as quickly as possible.” .

“We teach our kids that when they hurt another person, they should apologize and do what they can to make things right,” Hucker wrote. “The administration has to do that too. “

In January 2020, two Montgomery County police officers responded to a call that a 5-year-old boy had left East Silver Spring Elementary School.

The officers were identified in court documents as Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday.
Within two minutes of arriving at the scene – less than a quarter of a mile from the school – and approaching the boy, an officer is stern with the boy, who is calm and hesitant to answer questions.

The boy starts to cry and becomes more and more upset, screaming and appearing to hyperventilate. Christmon grabs the boy’s arm and escorts him into a police car. He then drives him back to school with the school’s deputy principal, Justine Pfeiffer, who was present throughout the day.

At school, the police told the boy to sit on a chair. When the boy hesitates, an officer lifts him up and puts him on the chair. The boy gets angry again and cries as the officers forcefully tell him to “shut up this noise”.

When the boy is seated, Holliday is shown screaming five inches from the boy’s face, mocking the 5-year-old’s cries.

“I need to beat someone,” she said afterwards, one of the many references officers made to “beating” the children or the boy.

After the boy’s mother arrives, the officers bring them both to a conference room and have a brief conversation in which they tell the mother that she can legally “beat” the child.

Next, Christmon placed a handcuff around the boy’s wrist and put both of the boy’s hands behind his back, in an attempt to scare him into behaving better.

A year after the incident, in January 2021, the boy’s family filed a complaint against officers, the school system and the county government, alleging assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment , violation of rights, neglect and emotional distress.

The police department said officers were still on duty and did not publicly state what disciplinary action had been taken against them.

In a response filed this month at the trial, Christmon and Holliday admitted almost all of the citations attributed to them in the trial and documented on video, but repeatedly alleged “facts, statements and informational material. to a complete and precise description of the events. “are omitted. They did not specify what was omitted.

The police denied that they threatened the boy, mistreated him or acted in a way that required the boy to receive “protection” from them. The trial alleged that the school officials who were present should have protected the boy from the treatment of the police.

In a separate court file, the Montgomery County School Board asked that the allegations that school staff were negligent and violated the boy’s rights be dismissed.

The school board also maintains that the family is not proving that the authorities’ failure to keep the boy in school is what harmed the boy. School employees could not have “reasonably anticipated the behavior of the officers,” the district said in its response.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at [email protected]

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