Tiny wrists in cuffs: How police use force against children

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie cries while she talks with an Associated Press reporter at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door executing a warrant as they were searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie cries while she talks with an Associated Press reporter at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door executing a warrant as they were searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Associated Press

  • This image provided by the Chicago Police Department shows an image from video from a police worn body camera on March 15, 2019, in Chicago. Royal Smart, 8, in blue was handcuffed by police in south Chicago. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. (Chicago Police Department via AP)

    This image provided by the Chicago Police Department shows an image from video from a police worn body camera on March 15, 2019, in Chicago. Royal Smart, 8, in blue was handcuffed by police in south Chicago. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. (Chicago Police Department via AP) Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson poses for a photo at her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago during a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson poses for a photo at her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago during a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Roy, left, and Royal react as they listen to their mother, Domonique Wilson talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Roy, left, and Royal react as they listen to their mother, Domonique Wilson talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8-years-old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8-years-old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie holds her hand while she talks with a reporter from the Associated Press at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore their home apart as they executed a search warrant. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie holds her hand while she talks with a reporter from the Associated Press at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore their home apart as they executed a search warrant. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Savannah, left, holds her daughter Chanel, as she sits with her sister Telia, as they listen to their mother Krystal Archie talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore apart the cabinets and dressers as they executed a search warrant. Archie had never heard of the people they were hunting.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Savannah, left, holds her daughter Chanel, as she sits with her sister Telia, as they listen to their mother Krystal Archie talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore apart the cabinets and dressers as they executed a search warrant. Archie had never heard of the people they were hunting. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie cries while she talks with an Associated Press reporter at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore apart the cabinets and dressers searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor. Telia, her third child, told the AP the scariest moment was seeing an officer press his foot into Savannah's back.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Krystal Archie cries while she talks with an Associated Press reporter at her attorney's office in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore apart the cabinets and dressers searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor. Telia, her third child, told the AP the scariest moment was seeing an officer press his foot into Savannah's back. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Krystal Archie poses for a photograph with her three children Jhaimarion, left, Telia, second from right, and Savannah on Chicago's South Side. The children were just 7, 11 and 14 years old when on two occasions just 11 weeks apart police kicked open their front door and ordered them to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Krystal Archie poses for a photograph with her three children Jhaimarion, left, Telia, second from right, and Savannah on Chicago's South Side. The children were just 7, 11 and 14 years old when on two occasions just 11 weeks apart police kicked open their front door and ordered them to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Krystal Archie poses for a portrait in Chicago. Her children were just 7, 11 and 14 years old when on two occasions, only 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered them to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Krystal Archie poses for a portrait in Chicago. Her children were just 7, 11 and 14 years old when on two occasions, only 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered them to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Telia, 13, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 11 years old when on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Telia and her siblings to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Telia, 13, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 11 years old when on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Telia and her siblings to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Savannah, 17, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 14, when on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Savannah and her siblings to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Savannah, 17, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 14, when on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Savannah and her siblings to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 9, 2021, photo X'Zane Watts stands before his former home in Charleston, W.Va. He and his mother moved from the house after he was chased by an undercover police officer from the alley into his home in 2017 when he was 15 years old, and they pointed a gun at his head. Police said that he appeared to fit the description of a burglary suspect. The family settled with the city for an undisclosed sum.

    In this Sept. 9, 2021, photo X'Zane Watts stands before his former home in Charleston, W.Va. He and his mother moved from the house after he was chased by an undercover police officer from the alley into his home in 2017 when he was 15 years old, and they pointed a gun at his head. Police said that he appeared to fit the description of a burglary suspect. The family settled with the city for an undisclosed sum. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 9, 2021, photo X'Zane Watts walks out of the alley in Charleston, W.Va. where he was chased in 2017 at age 15 by undercover officers who followed him into his home and pointed a gun at his head.  Police said that he appeared to fit the description of a burglary suspect. The family settled with the city for an undisclosed sum.

    In this Sept. 9, 2021, photo X'Zane Watts walks out of the alley in Charleston, W.Va. where he was chased in 2017 at age 15 by undercover officers who followed him into his home and pointed a gun at his head. Police said that he appeared to fit the description of a burglary suspect. The family settled with the city for an undisclosed sum. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson, left, poses for a photo with her sons Royal, center, and Roy at her attorneys office in Chicago. Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of  raid on his home when he was 8 years old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy, but she said the memories still torment them.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson, left, poses for a photo with her sons Royal, center, and Roy at her attorneys office in Chicago. Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of raid on his home when he was 8 years old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy, but she said the memories still torment them. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Royal Smart, right, and Roy react while they listen to their mother, Domonique Wilson talks during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Royal Smart remembers every detail about the moment he was handcuffed by police in south Chicago. He remembers the cold March darkness. The feeling of the handcuffs on his wrists. The panic as he was led outside of his house, arms raised, to face dozens of guns pointed at him by police. He was only 8 years old.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Royal Smart, right, and Roy react while they listen to their mother, Domonique Wilson talks during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Royal Smart remembers every detail about the moment he was handcuffed by police in south Chicago. He remembers the cold March darkness. The feeling of the handcuffs on his wrists. The panic as he was led outside of his house, arms raised, to face dozens of guns pointed at him by police. He was only 8 years old. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson looks outside from her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson looks outside from her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none. No one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo, Roy reacts as he listens to his mother, Domonique Wilson talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8 years old and his brother Roy, who is only a year older, stood by watching, not knowing what to say or do. 'He's a child,' Roy said of his sibling. 'He wasn't supposed to be handcuffed like that.'

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo, Roy reacts as he listens to his mother, Domonique Wilson talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8 years old and his brother Roy, who is only a year older, stood by watching, not knowing what to say or do. 'He's a child,' Roy said of his sibling. 'He wasn't supposed to be handcuffed like that.' Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart, left, poses with his siblings and mother in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes two years ago, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none in the family's home on Chicago's South Side. From left are Royal, Roy and Royalty, and their mother, Domonique Wilson.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart, left, poses with his siblings and mother in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes two years ago, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none in the family's home on Chicago's South Side. From left are Royal, Roy and Royalty, and their mother, Domonique Wilson. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Jhaimarion reacts as he listens to his mother Krystal Archie talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore their home apart searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Jhaimarion reacts as he listens to his mother Krystal Archie talking during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. Archie's three children were present when police, on two occasions just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore their home apart searching for drug suspects. She'd never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo, attorney Al Hofeld, Jr. reacts as he talks with the Associated Press at his office in Chicago.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo, attorney Al Hofeld, Jr. reacts as he talks with the Associated Press at his office in Chicago. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8 years old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8 years old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Telia, 13, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 11, when on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Telia and her siblings to get down on the floor.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Telia, 13, poses for a portrait in Chicago. She was 11, when on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, police kicked open the front door of her home on Chicago's South Side and ordered Telia and her siblings to get down on the floor. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8 years old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none.

    In this Sept. 26, 2021, photo Royal Smart poses for a portrait in a Chicago park. Smart still has nightmares about being handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes when he was 8 years old, alongside his mother and other adults. Neither he nor anyone else was arrested at his family's home on Chicago's South Side when police wielding a warrant came looking for illegal weapons and found none. Associated Press

  • In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson looks out a window from her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none and no one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them.

    In this Sept. 23, 2021, photo Domonique Wilson looks out a window from her attorney's office in Chicago. Wilson's son Royal Smart was handcuffed by police in south Chicago as part of a raid on his home when he was 8-years-old. Police were looking for illegal weapons and found none and no one was arrested. Wilson, said her children still sleep with the lights on all night. They continue to try therapy but she said the memories still torment them. Associated Press

 
 
Posted10/20/2021 7:00 AM

CHICAGO -- Royal Smart remembers every detail: the feeling of the handcuffs on his wrists. The panic as he was led outside into the cold March darkness, arms raised, to face a wall of police officers pointing their guns.

He was 8 years old.

 

Neither he nor anyone else in his family's Chicago home was arrested that night two years ago, and police wielding a warrant to look for illegal weapons found none. But even now, he's tormented by visions of officers bursting through houses and tearing rooms apart, ordering people to lie on the floor.

'I can't go to sleep," he said. 'I keep thinking about the police coming.'

Children like Royal were not the focus after George Floyd was killed by police in 2020, prompting a debate on the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement, especially on adults of color. But in case after case, an Associated Press investigation found kids as young as 6 have been treated harshly by officers - handcuffed, felled by stun guns, pinned to the ground. Departments nationwide have few or no guardrails to prevent such incidents.

The AP analyzed data on approximately 3,000 instances of police use of force against children under 16 over the past 11 years. The data, provided to the AP by Accountable Now, a project of The Leadership Conference Education Fund aiming to create a comprehensive use-of-force database, includes incidents from 25 police departments in 17 states.

It's a small representation of the 18,000 police agencies nationwide and the millions of daily encounters police have with the public.

But the information gleaned is troubling.

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Black children made up more than 50% of those who were handled forcibly, though they are just 15% of the U.S. child population. Minority children are often perceived by police as being older than they are. The most common types of force were takedowns, strikes and muscling, followed by firearms pointed at or used on children. Less often, kids faced other tactics, like pepper spray or police K-9s.

In Minneapolis, officers pinned children with their bodyweight at least 190 times. In Indianapolis, more than 160 kids were handcuffed; in Wichita, Kansas, officers drew or used their Tasers on kids at least 45 times. Most children in the dataset are teenagers, but the data included dozens of cases of children age 10 or younger.

Force is occasionally necessary to subdue children, some of whom are accused of serious crimes.

Police reports obtained for a sample of incidents show some kids who were stunned or restrained were armed; others were undergoing mental health crises and were at risk of harming themselves. Still others showed police force escalating after kids fled from questioning.

Some departments have policies that govern how old a child must be to be handcuffed, but very few mention age in their use-of-force policies. While some offer guidance on how to manage juveniles accused of crimes or how to handle people in mental distress, the AP could find no policy addressing these issues together.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Royal, the boy in Chicago, was handcuffed for nearly 30 minutes alongside his mother and other adults in the house. Then a police sergeant released him, and an aunt came to look after the children. The family has sued Chicago police, alleging false arrest, wanton conduct and emotional distress.

Chicago police did not comment on the case but said revised policies passed in May require extra planning for vulnerable people like children before search warrants are served.

Meanwhile, attorneys like Na'Shaun Neal say police who use force on minors often depend on the perception that kids lie. Against an officer's word, Neal said, 'no one typically believes the children.'

Neal represents two boys - identified as R.R. and P.S. in court papers - who were involved in an altercation with police on July 4, 2019.

It was a few hours before midnight when a San Fernando, California, police officer stopped to ask if they were lighting fireworks, according to a complaint filed in federal court. The boys had been walking through a park, accompanied by an older brother and his dog.

According to the complaint, the officers followed the group and told them it was past curfew; they needed to take the boys into custody.

Police said the boys were responsible for the fracas that followed, and they charged them with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

But then a cellphone video, taken by R.R.'s brother, materialized. The video shows an officer forcing his 14-year-old brother to the ground and handcuffing him behind his back. His 13-year-old friend struggles next to him, his neck and shoulders pinned by the officer's knees for 20 seconds.

A judge found the boys not guilty at a bench trial. Neal is suing the city and the police officer on their behalf.

The city denied that officers used excessive force, maintaining that the boys physically resisted arrest.

'Unfortunately, the escalation occurred because of the conduct of the minors, not because of anything the officer did," the city's attorney Dan Alderman said.

R.R. and P.S. are Latinos. Authorities say there are reasons why police officers are more likely to use force against minorities than against white children.

Dr. Richard Dudley, a child psychiatrist in New York, says many officers have implicit bias that would prompt them to see Black children as older, and therefore more threatening, than they are.

It all becomes a vicious cycle, Dudley said. Police react badly to these kids and to the people they know, so kids react badly to police, leading them to react badly to kids.

Minority children have negative everyday dealings with police and are traumatized by them. 'Whatever they've seen police officers do in the past,' Dudley said, 'all of that is the backdrop for their encounter with a police officer.'

So when that encounter occurs, they may be overreactive and hypervigilant, and it may appear that they're not complying with police commands when, really, they're just scared.

The police are not thinking, 'I have this panicked, frightened kid that I need to calm down,' Dudley said.

___

Email AP's Global Investigations Team at investigative@ap.org or https://www.ap.org/tips/. See other work at https://www.apnews.com/hub/ap-investigations.

___

Wieffering is a Roy W. Howard Investigative Fellow.

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