Police in a western Michigan city already under scrutiny for alleged discrimination are defending their actions in the arrest of a 12-year-old black boy, saying they had to handcuff the child while they sorted out a confusing situation.
Grand Rapids police said they were called Friday about a fight involving 15-20 people and that the boy was arrested after he was seen chasing and hitting a man with a wooden pole. Police said he kicked officers as he was being detained, and he was arrested for resisting and obstructing a police officer and disorderly fighting.
The boy’s mother, Bernice Jones, said her son was playing and chasing a cousin, and that police overreacted. She said she tried to tell police to “hold on” because he was just 12.
The department summarized its response in a Facebook post following a witness’ post criticizing officers, who were described as mostly white. The department also on Monday opened an investigation to determine if the case was handled properly, though no officers were placed on leave.
“Not knowing the youth’s age or the circumstances of what was going on, the officer placed the youth in handcuffs,” the post reads. “The youth then began to resist the officer. A large crowd already in the neighborhood observed this and became upset that a 12-year-old was being arrested.
“This required the assistance of additional officers until the circumstances surrounding the situation could get sorted out.”
Police said they removed the handcuffs after the youth was placed in a police car and his mother told officers of his age. The witness, Ted Jauw, noted in his post that the department has a youth-interaction policy created after criticism over the handcuffing of a girl in 2017.
“The officer who handcuffed the boy made a snap decision that should have been handled differently,” Jauw wrote. “Given the other choices he was now supposedly trained to have. No one was de-escalating the situation. No one was using the judgment that had been granted in that change in policy.
The boy was taken to the Kent County Jail where he was processed and released to his mother.
Police said they later received another call about the mass fight that had sent officers to the neighborhood in the first place. They returned and arrested the man responsible.
Michigan’s Civil Rights office earlier this year announced it was investigating about two dozen complaints accusing the Grand Rapids Police Department of discrimination. Those complaints include allegations that police discriminated against a mentally ill war veteran in November by contacting immigration officials even though he’s a U.S. citizen.