In December 2018, an eight-year-old boy was arrested and nearly handcuffed after experiencing a mental health crisis at school. Now, the boy’s mother, Bianca N. Digennaro is filing a federal civil rights lawsuit over the incident at Gerald Adams Elementary in Key West, Florida.
“I refuse to let them make him a criminal,” Digennaro stated in a press conference this week. Digennaro originally fought the felony charges for nine months until a prosecutor dismissed the charges in 2019.
Officers from the Key West Police Department arrested her son on a felony battery charge after he allegedly struck his teacher. When they attempted to handcuff him, they realized his wrists were too small for the restraints. Benjamin Crump, an attorney involved in the lawsuit, shared the newly-released body-camera footage from the incident.
Newly-Released Footage Shows Shocking Arrest
Unbelievable!! @KWPOLICE used “scared straight” tactics on 8yo boy with special needs. He’s 3.5 ft tall and 64 lbs, but they thought it was appropriate to handcuff and transport him to an adult prison for processing!! He was so small the cuffs fell off his wrists! pic.twitter.com/iSTlXdKas6— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) August 10, 2020
The footage shows at least three officers surrounding the young boy. After they frisk him against a locker and realize the handcuffs are too large, they walk him to the school’s exit.
“I hate that you put me in this position, that I have to do this, OK? Alright?” one officer, who has not been identified, says. “The thing about it is you made a mistake, and now it’s time to learn from it and grow from it, right? Not repeat the same mistake again.”
The boy’s shoulders visibly shake as he cries, nodding along.
Digennaro calls the footage “impossible to watch.” She hopes other parents never have to watch similar footage involving their own children.
After his arrest, the boy was taken to a juvenile justice facility. His mother said he was processed at an adult jail, where his mugshot was taken and he was placed in a cell for a few minutes. The lawsuit alleges that the boy suffered stomach aches, headaches, insomnia, and nightmares following the incident.
What Led to the Boy’s Arrest
Digennaro’s son had been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD prior to the incident. According to the arrest report reviewed by the Miami Herald, the incident began when the boy’s teacher told him to sit properly in his cafeteria seat.
After he refused to move seats or be touched, he was told to walk with the teacher. Then, he told the teacher his mom was going to beat her up and proceeded to hit her in the chest.
According to the lawsuit, the school was aware of the boy’s disabilities because he was on an individualized education program. It alleges that the boy was placed in a “classroom and lunchroom setting that they knew was not appropriate for his disability.”
Officer Michael Malgrat, one of three officers named in the lawsuit, stated that the boy entered the school’s administrative office “postured as if he was ready to fight.” At the time, the boy was 3-and-a-half-feet tall and weighed only 64 pounds.
“This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals,” Crump said in a statement, the Miami Herald reports. “If convicted, the child in this case would have been a convicted felon at eight years old. This little boy was failed by everyone who played a part in this horrific incident.”