As the Oregonian reported, residents in Portland’s New Columbia community are calling for reform of a policy that allowed two officers to take a nine-year-old girl into custody without a juvenile court order last year. The girl — who was wearing a wet bathing suit, flip flops, and a towel — was handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed without a trusted adult present.
The arrest came after the nine-year-old fought another girl at a local Boys & Girls Club. Staff who broke up the fight found no “obvious” injuries, but suspended the nine-year-old from the club for one week. Police became involved after the mother of the second girl reported the fight and claimed the nine-year-old slammed her daughter’s head into a brick wall.
Officers David McCarthy and Matthew Huspek confronted the nine-year-old child on her front porch six days later. According to the girl’s mother, Latoya Harris, “They repeatedly asked her, ‘Why don’t you tell me what really happened?’” After questioning, the officers handcuffed and drove the girl to the police department, accusing her of fourth degree assault, or “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes physical injury to another.”
The policemen refused to let Harris accompany her daughter.
“I observed (her) breathing speed up, she looked down at the ground … crossed her arms and would eventually answer my questions,” McCarthy wrote in his report. The officers also claimed her responses were “inconsistent” with witness accounts. But charges were never brought against the juvenile. And after Harris filed a police complaint for the aggressive treatment of her daughter, an oversight group, the Independent Police Review Division, found no wrongdoing.
Last month, Harris brought her complaint to a local panel tasked with hearing complaints about Portland police misconduct, the Citizen Review Committee. And the ordeal has drawn the support from youth justice advocates, including Youth, Rights & Justice, a law firm that represents juveniles in court. With the help of the panel, advocates want a city ordinance altered so that children under the age of 10 cannot be taken into custody without a juvenile court order.
The criminalization of children for this sort of minor offense remains a prevalent trend nationwide. In the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, for instance, schools across the country increasingly rely on police for handling disciplinary action.