This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2021 to include a statement from the Montgomery County police union.
A Silver Spring family is suing the county and the school district after they say their 5-year-old son was assaulted and harassed by officers for walking away from class last year.
In the lawsuit, Shanta Grant alleges that her son was not properly supervised in his kindergarten class on Jan. 14, 2020, and he “walked out of” East Silver Spring Elementary School.
School employees called police to help find the boy. Officers found him about two-tenths of a mile away.
When the two officers — Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday — found the boy, they were immediately angry, yelling at him and “forcefully grabbing” his arm, the lawsuit alleges.
The boy cried and the officers allegedly told him to “cut it out” and demanded he get in the police car “now.”
When the boy hesitated because he was “scared,” his mother’s lawsuit says, Christmon grabbed him and “placed him in the squad car.”
“This was extremely frightening … because he thought he was going to be taken to jail,” rather than back to school, the lawsuit says. “ … They all completely disregarded the potential trauma that could arise from yelling at a five-year-old child and placing him in a squad car.”
A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Attorney information was not listed in online court records for Christmon and Holliday, or the county.
The officers could not be reached on phone numbers listed on an online database.
A spokeswoman for MCPS also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
When the boy’s crying intensified in the police car, Christmon allegedly said, “You better cut that out” and Holliday asked, “Does your Mama spank you? … She’s going to spank you today,” according to court records.
The officers allegedly chastised the boy throughout the ride and after returning to the school. They told him they “would have been beaten nine times” if they had left school, and, “you are bad.”
The lawsuit alleges officers said, “This is why people need to beat their kids,” and “I hope your mama let [sic] me beat you,” court documents say.
When the group returned to school, officers told the boy to sit down, and “forced him into a chair.”
The lawsuit alleges Holliday “let out 5 primal screams” in the boy’s face, with “the seeming purpose of terrorizing an already traumatized and upset child.”
Officers grabbed the boy and forced him into the chair several times, according to the lawsuit, and continued to demean him, calling him a “violent little thing,” a “little beast,” and “bad.”
When Grant arrived at the school, she discussed the situation with officers, who later placed one handcuff around the boy’s wrist and put both hands behind his back and said, “These are for people who don’t want to listen.”
The lawsuit alleges that throughout the incident, school officials shared private information about the student’s disciplinary and academic history with police. It also says the school staff should have intervened and helped de-escalate the situation with police.
In an interview on Friday afternoon, attorneys for the family — Matthew Bennett and James Papirmeister — said the complaint was written based on body camera footage of the incident from one officer. The other officer’s camera was not on, they said.
The attorneys said the police department has an ongoing internal affairs investigation into the incident.
In a statement released on Monday, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 – the Montgomery County police union – wrote that it cannot comment on pending litigation. But the statement said that the officers have “fully cooperated in the investigation” and gave statements to “internal investigators in August.”
“They are awaiting its results and any recommended discipline from the police chief,” the statement said. “We do agree with the feelings of the community – internal investigations shouldn’t take a year to process. The FOP believes that justice and discipline should be served in a timely and fair fashion.”
Attorneys for the Silver Spring family say the body camera footage shows the officers making references 20 times in 50 minutes to how the boy “should be beaten.” Bennett said the boy did not fight with officers or school staff members, and was only visibly upset and scared.
“I’ve been doing police misconduct cases for 25 years … and every case is different, but I don’t recall ever having a case with a 5-year-old who was treated like this,” Bennett said. “It’s 50 minutes of trauma to a little kid. That’s what it boils down to.”
The lawsuit alleges two counts of assault and battery, one count of false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and two counts of false imprisonment against the police officers. It also alleges violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and negligence against the Montgomery County school board.
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for late October. The family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Papirmeister said the family hopes the lawsuit forces the police department to train officers to ensure “no other 5-year-old child is traumatized.”
The boy is now afraid of police officers and requires counseling, attorneys said.
“It’s not our job to get people fired, but it is our job to make sure … other officers know you can’t do whatever you want,” Papirmeister said.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org