‘We want you to beat him’ | Video shows police officers berating 5-year-old

Video released Friday shows an incident of police berating a 5-year-old after he left his elementary school

National scrutiny has been cast on a Maryland police department and two police officers seen in a video berating a 5-year-old, including calling him a “little beast,” in a 2020 incident after he walked away from his elementary school.

Video released Friday by the Montgomery County Police Department shows one of the officers repeatedly screaming at the crying child, with her face inches from his. The 51-minute body camera video gives some insight into a lawsuit the child’s mother has filed due to the January 2020 incident.

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Montgomery County police officers found the kindergartner after he wandered from his Maryland school, according to several news outlets. In body camera footage, an officer can be seen putting the boy in the back of his police squad car, and the boy sobs as he is driven back to school.

When the boy’s mother arrives at the school, the footage shows both officers encouraging her to beat her son.

“We want you to beat him,” an officer says. When his mother replies that she can’t go to prison, the officer responds, “You don’t go to prison for beating your child.”

The boy’s mother has filed a lawsuit over the January 2020 interaction against Montgomery County, the two police officers involved in the incident and the county’s board of education. Her lawyers say the boy suffered emotional trauma, according to a CBS News report. Lawyers for the child’s mother, Shanta Grant, said the video shows the officers treating her son “as if he were a hardened criminal.” They said Grant is seeking “justice and fair compensation for the trauma he endured.”

“There is a certain way to treat a 5-year old boy,” said James Papirmeister, a lawyer for the family. “Needing to beat him, like I said, came up at least 15, perhaps 20 times.”

“She also hopes that the incident will lead to changes in policy and training, both with the school and the police,” attorneys Matthew Bennett and Papirmeister said in a statement.

The Washington Post reported the police department and the county’s public school system declined to address the incident in detail, citing the mother’s pending lawsuit. But the school system issued a statement describing the video as “extremely difficult” to watch.

“There is no excuse for adults to ever speak to or threaten a child in this way. 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."

- Montgomery County Public Schools

A police department spokeswoman told the publication that the two officers in the video remain employed by the department after an internal investigation.

“A thorough investigation was conducted of the entire event,” the department said in a statement.

Police department spokesman Rick Goodale said he can’t comment beyond the department’s written statement on Friday or say whether the officers were disciplined. “All that is confidential personnel records under (Maryland) law,” he wrote in a text message to The Associated Press on Saturday.

The officers found the boy about one block from East Silver Spring Elementary School and drove him back to the school, where they were met by a school administrator. The video shows an officer forcing the crying child onto a chair in the principal’s office.

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“Shut that noise up now!” the other officer shouted near the boy’s face. “I hope your momma let me beat you.”

One of the officers pulled out his handcuffs and closed one of loops around the child’s right wrist.

“You know what these are for?” he asked the boy. “These people that don’t want to listen and don’t know how to act.”

Both of the officers involved in the incident are Black, and so is the 5-year-old boy, according to Goodale.

Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando said the video “made me 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. This is violence,” Jawando said.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement Friday that he directed the county’s police chief to revisit training for how officers are expected to interact with children.

“Our police officers are not social workers, psychologists, or therapists and should not be giving advice or direction on parenting. Police duties should end as soon as school personnel are present to take over care of a child,” he said.

Elrich also said he is “limited” in what he can say about the matter while the mother’s lawsuit is pending and can’t discuss “disciplinary outcomes which have been taken.”

Earlier this year, police in Rochester, New York, released two body-camera videos of officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and sprayed with what police called a chemical “irritant.” The child had been accused of threatening to harm herself and her mother.

The recent reports of contentious police interactions with children alongside analysis that suggests children are more at risk for neglect and abuse during the pandemic have heightened concerns for child advocates.

An Associated Press analysis of state data reveals that the coronavirus pandemic has dissolved several systemic safety nets for millions of Americans — many of them children such as Ava. It found that child abuse reports, investigations, substantiated allegations and interventions have dropped at a staggering rate, increasing risks for the most vulnerable of families in the U.S.

In the AP’s analysis, it found more than 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns reported during the pandemic and 200,000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments compared with the same time period of 2019. That represents a national total decrease of 18% in both total reports and investigations.

“The pandemic and the resulting isolation reminds us that we cannot rely solely on a system that only responds after a child is hurt,” said Kurt Heisler, who oversaw the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System during the Obama administration. “What happens when we don’t have mandated reporters in front of children? It reminds us that we need another way to support and reach these families.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.