NYPD Handcuffs, Interrogates 7-Year-Old Over $5
After a 7-year-old boy was accused of taking a $5 bill off the ground in a scuffle with classmates, New York police allegedly interrogated, handcuffed and hassled him at a police station for hours before releasing him to his mother, who is now suing the city.
Overreaction to Playground Scuffle
Wilson Reyes, a third-grade student in a Bronx public school, got caught up on Dec. 4 in a playground scuffle with two other boys over the money. Although another student eventually copped to the “theft,” Wilson was falsely accused of taking it, according to the New York Post.
The NYPD has a special unit devoted to school security, but in Wilson’s case, regular cops showed up around 10:00 a.m. in response to a 911 call for robbery and assault. They allegedly took Wilson out of class and held him in a room for four hours, then took him down to the precinct station, where they interrogated him for another six hours.
When his mother was finally allowed to see him, she found him crying and handcuffed to a pipe, according to the Post. She is suing the city for $250 million.
Widespread Problem in New York City
The New York Civil Liberties Union says this kind of incident is not uncommon in the city. “This is something we are paying lots and lots of attention to,” says Brooke Menschel, an attorney with the NYCLU. “To the extent it’s a trend, it is concerning for us, and we will take action as appropriate.”
Students get caught up in three types of cases involving unconstitutional conduct by the police against them, Menshel says. First, they might commit minor violations of school rules that do not amount to criminal activity, yet they are actually arrested for a crime.
Second, says Menschel, students have been handcuffed or locked up in seclusion, with no probable cause for suspicion of criminal activity, and with no consent of a parent or teacher. ‘Those cases we hear about all the time,” she says. “When there’s something going on, they handcuff the student rather than investigate.”
And third, students who misbehave have even been removed from school and taken to the hospital for an emergency psychiatric evaluation – again with no consent by a parent or teacher. “Schools are using these as disciplinary measures, but they are police actions,” Menschel says. “They should be only used in response to criminal activity.”
The NYCLU, along with the ACLU, has filed a lawsuit of its own against the NYPD because of a situation similar to Wilson’s. In a federal class action filed in 2010, the NYCLU claims that the NYPD and its School Safety Division officers routinely subject city middle and high school students to unlawful seizures, arrests, and excessive force.
Menschel says the 2010 case is in the discovery phase surrounding certification of the class, and the NYCLU is gathering information on the prevalence of such violations. “Every time someone comes forward, like Wilson Reyes, we start to hear many more complaints,” she adds.
What Parents Can Do
Violence in schools is a hot-button issue these days, and everyone seems ready to call the police. Incidents of students being unfairly targeted by police are not confined to New York City. The ACLU notes similar incidents across the country in a recent blog post about Wilson Reyes’s case.
What can parents do if they believe their child has been unreasonably detained or arrested at school?
Menschel says that parents and students should first understand the rights they have. The NYCLU offers resources to students as part of its Know Your Rights program, and it even comes to schools and provides training.
Parents can also file complaints through police departments. “This is a channel for people to hold officers in schools accountable who are violating students’ rights,” she says. Whether or not the issue is resolved there, filing a complaint provides a record of the problem.
Finally, they can contact an attorney or a rights organization. “The NYCLU is very concerned and interested in hearing from folks if they have problems,” Menschel says. The organization can be reached by calling 212-607-3300 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.