An Upstate New York family is preparing to sue the city of Syracuse, alleging that officers violated their child’s civil rights by treating him like a criminal for allegedly stealing a bag of potato chips.
According to the lawyers, officers from the department have continued to single out the boy, claiming that cops handcuffed him while he was swimming in a local pool, claiming he stole something again.
Lawyers for the family of an 8-year-old boy who was detained by Syracuse Police Department on Sunday, April 17, for allegedly stealing a bag of Doritos from a Dollar General at the intersection of Lodi and Butternut streets on the city’s North Side, according to Syracuse.com.
On Wednesday, July 20, the child’s father, Anthony Weah, who hired the two civil rights attorneys, announced plans to file a lawsuit, hoping to have the three officers involved in the incident fired and the boy awarded millions of dollars in damages.
They filed a notice of claim against the SPD and the city of Syracuse on behalf of the family. A notice of claim is required to notify a city of a potential lawsuit and to establish ground rules for a discussion about a possible settlement.
The officer was challenged by a bystander about how he detained the young boy, with witnesses saying the cop snatched the boy off his bike by his hoodie and dumped the bag of Cool Ranch flavored chips on him.
Kenneth Jackson, who witnessed the officers snatching the boy off a bicycle outside the store, captured video of some of the incidents. The video showed the boy crying as the cop berated him repeatedly before taking him to his father.
“There’s other ways to rectify this besides scare tactics,” Jackson said. “Now that’s just another youth that’s scarred by the system.”
Chief of the SPD, Joseph Cecile, disagrees. While there were “low points” during the incident, he believes the end result, including the boy being released to his father, was an example of “community policing 101.”
The chief mentioned that the boy had a history of being suspected of stealing from local businesses and that this was an opportunity for them, along with the father, to put an end to the bad behavior.
According to the lawyers, their actions only served to dehumanize the boy, criminalizing him for the sake of a bag of chips by placing him in the patrol car and using “dehumanizing” language.
“This is not community policing,” said Jesse Ryder, one of the lawyers who drafted the complaint. This department is in disarray. Fundamentally faulty.”
According to Ryder and his co-counsel, San Francisco, officers from the department violated the boy’s civil rights as recently as Wednesday, July 6.
According to the attorneys, the boy was approached by police while on his way to the Schiller Park pool. The child’s trip to the pool was thwarted by law enforcement, and a video purportedly shows him in handcuffs while officers investigated a robbery. According to a video purportedly attached to the claim, the 8-year-old was detained for up to 10 minutes before being released without being charged with a crime.
According to a statement issued by the SPD on Wednesday, the boy was detained in handcuffs at Schiller Park while officers investigated an alleged armed robbery. There had been no robbery.
Two groups were fighting, according to Lt. Matthew Malinowski. He also noted the boy was later released to his family despite doing nothing.
The lieutenant said in the statement the boy was not charged and no gun was recovered.
The lawyers believe the boy’s rights have been violated because of the color of his skin. “They’re only doing this to the Black community,” Bonner remarked.
As a defense, the SPD is expected to bring up the elementary school student’s tattered history of crime. In addition to pointing to the multiple businesses that have suspected him of shoplifting, officials may point to the child being ticketed on a charge of stealing another boy’s bicycle, a crime brought up in the spring after the first incident.
Ryder declined to address that case, saying he wanted to focus only on the incidents where he claims the boy’s rights were violated by the department.
The family is seeking $3 million from each of the three officers involved in the April incident, requesting should an award be given to the cops to pay it from their own pockets. They are also hoping to receive $12 million from the city.
The city has not commented on the allegations of wrongdoing. Representatives for the municipality said it will “respond through the appropriate legal channels.”