Can a police officer handcuff a 6 year old child?

You may have seen this video footage going around the internet.  There was a 2018 Fourth Circuit (WV, VA, NC, SC, MD) case finding the handcuffing of a 10 year old boy, who was compliant, unconstitutional.

So what about a 6 year old who was allegedly non-compliant?

In E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172 (4th Cir. 2018), the Fourth Circuit looked at a claim of excessive force by an officer, against a student. Excessive force questions generally also fall under the Fourth Amendment, except in cases of pretrial detainees (arrestees) and prisoners. In E.W., a ten year old was questioned in school by a police officer, about a fight on the bus with other students, which had occurred three days earlier. The officer viewed the footage, and then had a closed door meeting with the child and two school administrators. During the meeting, the police officer handcuffed the 4’4”, 95 pound child, supposedly for his own safety, and that of the other administrators. The officer himself was 5’5” and 155 pounds. After being handcuffed for about 2 minutes, the child cried and apologized. Subsequently the child’s family filed suit.

(ETA: My video:)

The Court then went through the usual excessive force analysis, which are commonly known as the “Graham Factors.” These are the same factors which are analyzed in every Fourth Amendment excessive force case involving people who are not pretrial detainees. So basically, anyone on the street, or who is “being” arrested. At some point following an arrest, an arrestee becomes a “pretrial detainee,” in which case the analysis changes somewhat. 

There are  three factors to the “Graham Factors”:

1. “the severity of the crime at issue;

2. whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, 

3. and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” 

Graham, 490 U.S. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865. 

But these factors are not “exclusive,” and we may identify other “objective circumstances potentially relevant to a determination of excessive force.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2466 2473, 192 L.Ed.2d 416 (2015). Here, we believe it prudent to consider also the suspect’s age and the school context. The ultimate “question [is] whether the totality of the circumstances justified a particular sort of … seizure.” Jones , 325 F.3d at 527–28.

In E.W., the Court wasn’t happy with the decision to handcuff a compliant 10 year old:

In Brown v. Gilmore , we stated that “a standard procedure such as handcuffing would rarely constitute excessive force where the officers were justified … in effecting the underlying arrest.” 278 F.3d 362, 369 (4th Cir. 2002). There, the plaintiff brought an excessive force claim based on allegations that a police officer had handcuffed her, causing her wrists to swell, dragged her to the police cruiser, and then pulled her into the vehicle. Id. at 365–66, 369. We found that the circumstances justified the “minimal level of force applied” because, as the officer approached a crowded scene on the street, he attempted to arrest the plaintiff for failure to follow another officer’s orders to move her car. Id. at 369. We stated that it was not “unreasonable for the officers to believe that a suspect who had already disobeyed one direct order would balk at being arrested. Handcuffing [the plaintiff] and escorting her to a police vehicle was thus reasonable under the circumstances.” Id. 

….

The circumstances in this case are markedly different from those in Brown . We are not considering the typical arrest of an adult (or even a teenager) or the arrest of an uncooperative person engaged in or believed to be engaged in criminal activity. Rather, we have a calm, compliant ten-year-old being handcuffed on school grounds because she hit another student during a fight several days prior. These considerations, evaluated under the Graham framework, demonstrate that Dolgos’s decision to handcuff E.W. was unreasonable.

E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172, 180 (4th Cir. 2018).

The Court supported its conclusion by pointing to other courts around the country, who have recognized that youth is an important consideration when deciding to use handcuffs during an arrest. 

The Ninth Circuit, applying the Graham factors, held that officers who handcuffed an eleven-year-old child used excessive force. Tekle v. United States , 511 F.3d 839, 846 (9th Cir. 2007) (“He was cooperative and unarmed and, most importantly, he was eleven years old.”); see also Ikerd v. Blair , 101 F.3d 430, 435 (5th Cir. 1996) (holding that officer used excessive force against ten-year-old girl under Graham analysis). In addition, the Eleventh Circuit has held that “handcuffing was excessively intrusive given [the arrestee’s] young age.” Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic , 458 F.3d 1295, 1300–01, 1306 (11th Cir. 2006) (denying qualified immunity to SRO who handcuffed nine-year-old student for five minutes). Several district courts have similarly held that young age is a “uniquely” or “highly relevant” consideration under Graham . See Kenton II , 2017 WL 4545231, at *9 (holding that handcuffing eight-year-old child violated constitution); Hoskins v. Cumberland Cty. Bd. of Educ., No. 13-15, 2014 WL 7238621, at *7, 11 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 17, 2014) (noting that eight-year-old student “was a startlingly young child to be handcuffed”); see also James v. Frederick Cty. Pub. Sch., 441 F.Supp.2d 755, 757, 759 (D. Md. 2006) (concluding that handcuffing eight-year-old child suggested excessive force). Here, E.W. was only ten years old at the time of the arrest. She therefore falls squarely within the tender age range for which the use of handcuffs is excessive absent exceptional circumstances.

 E.W. v. Dolgos, 884 F.3d 172 , 182 (4th Cir. 2018).

Even though the Fourth Circuit found an excessive force civil rights violation under the facts presented in E.W. v. Dolgos, given that none of the lawyers or judges involved found prior legal precedent sufficiently similar to the conduct involved, the Court granted qualified immunity to the police officer, but warned that “our excessive force holding is clearly established for any future qualified immunity cases involving similar circumstances. Id., 884 F.3d at 187. 

What that means, is that all police officers in the Fourth Circuit are now “on notice” that if they handcuff a small child without reasonable cause, they will not be granted immunity from civil damages. This handcuffing, however, occurred in Florida, and not in the Fourth Circuit.  Florida is a member of the Eleventh Circuit, based out of Atlanta. One of the cases cited by the Fourth Circuit in E.W. was an Eleventh Circuit case: Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic , 458 F.3d 1295, 1300–01, 1306 (11th Cir. 2006) (denying qualified immunity to SRO who handcuffed nine-year-old student for five minutes).

Somebody involved in that situation probably ought to go read that case now . . . .

Worshipping Psychobabble

Lately I have become unusually aggravated by so-called psychological “experts” testifying in criminal and civil courtrooms in West Virginia. I have cross examined these so-called “doctors” all-the-way from Monroe County to Berkeley County in the past month.  I have reviewed their reports.  I have come to the conclusion that (big surprise) its all about money.  Yours and mine.  There is an entire industry of people who, with maybe an extra year of college, get to milk the taxpayers for their junk-science counseling and fabricated analysis.  They would not survive in the free market, except of course, in the realm of being “expert witnesses” for litigants who can afford them.

From child custody cases in Family Court, to abuse and neglect cases in Circuit Court, to the evaluations of defendants in criminal sentencing in Circuit Courts, it’s always the same thing: psychoquack gets money, person meets with psychoquack, psychoquack writes a report dribbling on about some test he or she ran on the person and what the results mean and ultimately giving an opinion that’s not worth a grain of salt.

I cross examined an “expert” in an abuse and neglect trial in Circuit Court the other day.  I found out that this guy “examines” parents who are facing termination of their parental rights, upon request by the State (DHHR – who is the party seeking the termination) to the tune of about 20 per month, all “referred” by DHHR, whereby he gets paid at least 400-500 dollars for each “examination”.  That’s about 9,000 to 10,000 per month of income this guy receives from the State to throw these folks under the bus.  I guess it’s no big surprise what his opinion was in my case.  Of course it was that parental rights should be terminated – despite the fact that the treating psychoquack and the social worker both had the opposite opinion.  He was paid for his opinion, and he gave it – regardless of whether it was the right thing to do.

In Family Court cases, “expert” psychoquack witnesses routinely testify, allegedly in the best interests of the children.  But they are nothing more than psycho-prostitutes, where the party who hires them is by default the ideal person to maintain custody of the child(ren).  Is there anything more disgusting than a “professional” who pretends to act in the best interests of a child, but 100% of the time in reality acts in the best interests of the party paying them?  I’d rather associate with inmates.

And then there are the psychoquacks who make a living off of court referrals for evaluations in criminal sentencings.  Many times they charge 3,000 to 5,000 dollars per “evaluation,” and the poor defendant, if he or she has some income or assets, has no choice but to pay it – the judge ordered it.  And for those who are indigent, guess who foots the bill?  Ultimately the taxpayers.  Every one of these reports was about the same: pages and pages of dribble about some scientific and complex sounding test that they ran, and the scores which the defendant scored on each individual test.  Then you turn about 10 pages to get to the very end, and there is about a one page opinion that goes on and on without really saying anything helpful, and which includes “recommendations” which are copy and pasted from some other report that they did the day before.

There.  I’ve released these negative thoughts which have been brewing in my head for quite some time – now you deal with them.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Former “Charleston Football Player” Found Guilty of Child Neglect

As reported in the Charleston Daily Mail today, Rainest Crawford, 24, of Charleston was convicted after a jury trial of child neglect. The facts of these cases are such that they could easily go both ways. Because who would harm an infant unless it were an accident? But as in other cases, an attempted cover-up or lying sometimes secures the conviction. And in this case, he denied knowing what harmed the infant for the first two days after the injury, and then he came clean claiming that it was an accident. If you accidentally injure a baby, you should be able to tell a physician exactly what happened to the child in order to promote the best possible medical care. And if you don’t, then you deserve a felony conviction of child neglect. These circumstances seem to be playing out in the Caylee Anthony case as well.

The article stated the following:

Prosecutors, however, said the 210-pound former University of Charleston football player intentionally harmed the baby. Their primary evidence was that Crawford was the only one in the room with the baby at the time and he told doctors, the mother and police for two days that he didn’t know how she sustained those injuries.

First of all, what difference does it make that the guy used to play football for the University of Charleston? It’s not like he is famous… Should we label all criminal defendants by what sport they used to play? And why mention that he weighs 210 pounds? When you have an adult up against a baby, it doesn’t really matter what your weight is. Furthermore, 210 pounds is not that large. I am at least thirty pounds heavier and I certainly don’t think my weight should be mentioned in an article about me – unless it specifically is written about my amateur sumo-wrestling hobby.

The article quoted Crawford as stating that:

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It all happened so fast. I don’t want to be a bad parent. She was my first child, and I didn’t have any experience or nothing. I’d never been in that situation before.”

People react differently to situations such as this, and it is certainly possible that it was a genuine accident. Knuckle-dragger former football players such as this guy and myself have to be extremely careful when holding an infant. Do the State’s experts really know for a fact that this was caused by “abuse” and not an accident? As with any expert medical testimony, there are two sides to every opinion. Usually defendants such as this do not have access to adequate expert testimony to present the “other side of the story” to the jury.

Regardless, this is very sad. Infants are completely innocent victims. The article didn’t say what permanent injuries were suffered by the child, but even a slight injury to a baby is a tragedy.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

West Virginia Sex Offender System Watered Down – and sometimes unjust

From the Register-Herald today:

A Beckley man has been arrested and charged with his second offense of “failure to register as a sex offender.” Well, the guy was registered, you can look it up yourself on the WV Sex Offender registry, found here.

What crime did he commit? His wife (presumably) bought a car and it had his name on it. He didn’t notify the State Police within the required amount of days the statute requires. If you didn’t know, a conviction as a sex offender requires the person to notify the State Police anytime they do or buy anything.

I don’t have a problem with this when it comes to real sex offenders – you know, the child abductors and child molesters, etc. In fact I think we should increase the penalties and protections against these predators. But any “sexually-motivated” conviction brings the requirement to register as a sex offender for life. That waters down the purpose of the sex offender registry. Not every sex offender is dangerous. Not every sex offender deserves to be subjected to the sex offender registry.

What about the guy charged in this case? A glance at his “offender details” reveals that he was convicted in the year 2000 of two counts of 3rd degree sexual abuse. He was given a suspended sentence and 15 months probation – so he did not do any jail time. What is “3rd degree sexual abuse” exactly, and how is that different from 3rd degree “sexual assault?.” Third degree sexual “assault” in West Virginia is essentially statutory rape – sexual intercourse between someone 16 or under and someone over 16 and also 4 years older than the “victim.” I put “victim” in quotes because many times the “victim” is absolutely old enough to be responsible for his or her actions and that fact should not be ignored. The “Assault” charge is a felony and carries up to 5 years in prison.

Third degree sexual “abuse” occurs when one person subjects another person to “sexual contact” without the latter’s consent, when such lack of consent is due to the victim’s incapacity to consent by reason of being less than 16 years old. What is “sexual contact?” It could be slapping someone on the rear-end, or an improper touching of any sort. It doesn’t take much. Actually it could just be a lie. Poor saps are convicted all the time from some 15 or 16 year old girls testimony before a jury, and without much more evidence – and it could very well be a lie. The only defense to this is a good lawyer who can talk some sense into the jury.

Lastly, the victim must be less than 16 years old. That means that the old-farts in the state legislature decided that a young girl on the day before her 16th birthday is absolutely incapable of forming her own decisions, she cannot consent to sexual conduct, but one day later, this 16 year old girl can have all the sexual escapades that she wants. In one magical day, she has become a wise and responsible adult.

So what about the guy in the article? I have no idea what the facts in the case are, but it could be relatively minor, or he even could be innocent. On the other hand, he could have done something more serious and pled down to this charge. Who knows. The point is, that even for relatively minor “sex offenses,” non-dangerous people are subjected to a life of being charged with felonies every time they buy a new car or go on vacation. The charge they put on this guy is a felony and brings 10 to 25 years. And the original charge that he was convicted of was a misdemeanor and only carried a potential penalty of up to 90 days in jail… Think about that. But hey, just like lawyers, these people do not make sympathetic victims and no one is going to help them.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Mom Robs Slot Parlor With BB Pistol, Children in-tow

From the Charleston Gazette today:

This is another one of those “only in West Virginia” items…

A St. Albans woman, who has since qualified for the Parent of the Year award and the Intellectual Criminal of the Year award, robbed a video slot parlor with a Crossman BB pistol. She held it to the clerk’s head and stole her cell phone and keys. It didn’t say whether or not she took the clerk’s car with the keys, I’m assuming she did not – since she only had to escape a few houses down.

She was found sitting on a porch a few houses away a short time later by police. She had the cash, the keys and the cell phone – and the kids I’m assuming – with her on the front porch.

She later told police that she just wanted a better life for her kids. Well, this is probably the best thing that could happen to her kids because now they will be raised by someone else – anyone else.

What an idiot.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

WV Father Convicted of Infant’s Murder 27 Years Ago

From the Charleston Dail Mail:

Apparently, there was an autopsy performed on this child back in 1981 which indicated that the infant died as a result of being shaken, but it was never delivered to the prosecutor’s office. Talk about gross incompetence…

Just remember, these are the same medical examiners that make mistakes in the other direction as well. Medical examiners for the most part couldn’t get a job working in a hospital, or in private practice working on actual living beings. Their incompetence and skewed sense of purpose can’t maim or kill a cadaver, but they can cause an innocent person to get convicted.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Kanawha County Mother Charged in 1-Year-Old’s Death – Police Should Tread Carefully

A story in the Charleston Daily Mail today reported that a Kanawha County mother was charged criminally with the death of her 22 month-old son.

Elizabeth Dawn Thornton, 21, was arraigned in Kanawha Magistrate Court in connection with the death of Constantine Alexander Washburn, known as Alex.

Lt. Sean Crosier, of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, said the infant died May 31 as a result of injuries received May 26 in his Cross Lanes home. Crosier said the boy’s severe brain injuries and other injuries would have required immediate medical attention, but that Thornton did not seek help until a friend called an ambulance on May 29.

Crosier said authorities waited several days before charging Thornton. “This is a very, very serious allegation and we wanted to make sure everything was right,” he said. He said authorities are still questioning other family members, including the boy’s father, 31-year-old Christopher Washburn.

Police believe the elder Washburn may have been present when the boy was injured. Crosier did not know if other charges are pending.

According to the criminal complaint, both parents told police Alex Washburn bumped his head on a table and hit his chin on a toilet. But doctors said the boy’s severe brain injuries and bruising on his neck did not support their stories.

As a criminal defense attorney, this is the most upsetting type of case, because babies are innocent 100% of the time and have been robbed of their life. Secondly, there are many types of accidental situations that could be construed to be child abuse or neglect, resulting in essentially murder charges against parents who have suffered a great tragedy.

In these types of cases, there is a very fine line between parents who deserve to rot in prison, and parents who are either innocent, or unintentionally harmed their child. What separates the two? The medical examiner who performed the autopsy. The ME will come up with some reason why the injuries do not corroborate the parent(s) version of what happened. Therein lies the problem: what happens when two doctors disagree on the autopsy results and their necessary conclusions? You have a situation where two doctors testify against each other for opposing parties in a court room. But this is not a civil case, this is a criminal case, with everything at stake, not just money.

Case in point: I had a similar case where a 6-month-old child died tragically. The autopsy was performed and it was ruled SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by the ME. Law enforcement thought something was fishy, and they didn’t like the ME’s conclusion, so the ME was fired, and a new ME was brought in to take a second look. Guess what? The second ME ruled the death a homicide, based on the conclusion that blood in some cavity of the body meant it must have been murder, or that someone was lying. So the investigators leak the story to the newspapers and start interrogating the parents.

So what happened? After being devastated by the death of their infant, the parents were already at the end of their rope. Within months, both parents committed suicide. Tragically, an entire family disappeared from the world.

The point is, that investigators better make damn sure they know what they are talking about, and the parents better run – not walk – to an independent physician to review the ME’s findings.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.