Outrage is growing in Maryland after the Montgomery County Police Department released an alarming video showing two officers screaming and insulting a 5-year-old before handcuffing the child and threatening him repeatedly at his school in January 2020.
Officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday were not fired for their conduct in the video, and a union official told CNN that the two faced “corrective action” and nothing else. The police department would not fully comment on the officers because of a lawsuit filed by the child’s family.
According to the body camera video, the 5-year-old allegedly hit a teacher and ran away from East Silver Spring Elementary School. An administrator then called the police to find the child. Once they found him and brought him back to school, both Christmon and Holliday repeatedly yelled, shouted and insulted the young boy for running away.
“I don’t like bad children. Disrespectful children, I think they need to be beaten. I hope she beats you when you go home because you deserve it for your actions today. You were horrible,” Holliday said in the video after yelling in the child’s face and berating him for walking away from school.
“This is why people need to beat their kids. I hope your momma let me beat you. Oh, my god, I’d beat him so bad … I’m telling you he couldn’t sit in that chair,” Holliday added as she yelled at the 5-year-old.
Part of the video, taken from Christmon’s body camera, includes the child’s mother, Shanta Grant, who complains that she is not legally allowed to viciously beat her child. The officers then handcuffed the 5-year-old in front of his mother before Grant agrees to beat the child when they get home.
“Nobody was in their rightful role. [The police] had power in the room. It’s clear everyone looked to them. In that moment, whether teacher recognized or not, she abdicated her power… the little baby didn’t have no power; he had nothing. That was absolutely deplorable,” Andria Goss, director of a child welfare project in Illinois, said.
As Holliday handcuffs the 5-year-old, Grant is sitting alongside the officers berating the child, making tacit references to another family member who is incarcerated. Grant repeatedly tells the 5-year-old that he does not want to end up where his uncle is as Holliday clips the handcuffs to his tiny wrists.
Both officers dissuade the mother from taking the child to therapy for behavioral issues and instead demand she beat the child. Shortly after, all three have a lengthy discussion about the ways their own parents beat them with household items and how they wish it were still customary to do the same now.
Grant implies repeatedly that she beats the 5-year-old and makes an effort to hide the marks while mentioning that school administrators have criticized her or contacted her about potential abuse of the child.
“It was stated to me…don’t let no one else hear you say that, because that’s a CPS case. I would have to report that. I didn’t say I was gon’ beat him with a belt,” Grant said.
“I spank him. But I can’t discipline him how I want to discipline him because of this. I’m not losing my child to the system and I’m not going to prison. He’s not being physically abused,” Grant added.
“You can most definitely…Matter of fact, we applaud the fact that you would. Please beat your kid,” Christmon added.
“All I can tell you is, beat that ass,” Holliday said.
The child’s family is now suing the Montgomery County Police Department over the incident, and despite Grant’s comments in the video, she said she did not realize what the officers had done before she arrived, according to CNN.
Grant is suing the two officers, the police department and the county for $1 million in damages.
Throughout the video, the 5-year-old seems terrified of Grant, Christmon, Holliday and a school administrator in the room and is visibly shaken by the adults screaming in his face.
Before Grant arrives, the 5-year-old is crying loudly when Holliday gets close to his face.
“Some of the examples that I observed in that unfortunate video included terrorizing and humiliating, the yelling in the child’s face, the degrading, the public kind of making him feel worthless. And then…ignoring and denying a response to his emotional reaction. As if his emotions did not matter. All of those things are examples in the bucket of what might constitute emotional abuse,” Dr. Allison Jackson, division chief of the Child & Adolescent Protection Center at Children’s National Hospital, told CNN.
“This response…is not one that would in any way be effective in helping him if there’s some issue that needs to be addressed, and it certainly could make those things worse for him. He’s in that vulnerable age group where the more adverse experiences that occur, the increased chance he has, or child like him has, for having poor health outcomes in adulthood that can result in early aging, early death,” she added.
A lawyer for Grant, James Papirmeister, claimed in an interview with CNN that she did not realize what Christmon and Holliday had said to the child before she got there.
“When we got the video, to our considerable shock and surprise, the handcuffing wasn’t the most egregious thing done that day. We thought the 45-minute onslaught about beating this child and horrible intense screams were more shocking than handcuffs,” Papirmeister said.
Despite what Grant said in the last 30 minutes of the video, her lawyer denied that the 5-year-old is abused at home. The school district also defended the administrator who told Grant it would be okay for her to abuse the 5-year-old and would not tell CNN whether that administrator had been disciplined.
“Our heart aches for this student. There is no excuse for adults to ever speak to or threaten a child in this way. We have asked MCPS leadership to ensure that the school system’s procedures and expectations are clear to all staff,” the district said in a statement.
TRIGGER WARNING: MCPD has released the body cam footage I have been requesting related to the 5 year old detained by police, my statement and a link to the footage below. pic.twitter.com/joJlwdiHNl
— Will Jawando (@willjawando) March 26, 2021
Will Jawando, a county councilmember, told CNN and local outlet WTOP that the conduct from all of the adults in the video was heinous.
“Every adult in this situation failed this child. The systems that were set up to support him. School system, supposed to be a place of learning, of support, of love, of care. Those administrators failed. Police, supposed to protect and serve. They failed him,” he told CNN.
“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. 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,” he added to WTOP.
According to The Washington Post, nearly 500 people have signed a letter online demanding that the county fire the police officers or at least suspend them while also making changes to school procedures for when the police should be called.
The NAACP told ABC7 they want an investigation into the incident to be done by the Montgomery County’s inspector general and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.