A Florida mother is taking legal action over the traumatic arrest of her 8-year-old son.
According to USA Today, Bianca Digennaro is suing the Monroe County School District and the city of Key West for the Dec. 14, 2018 incident, which she claims violated her child's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. Video of the boy's arrest was shared Sunday by Digennaro's attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor.
The now-viral bodycam footage shows two Key West officers informing the child he was under arrest because he allegedly punched a teacher in the chest. Crump said the altercation occurred after a teacher reprimanded the boy for refusing to "sit properly"; she allegedly "escalated the situation by using her hands to forcibly move him."
The video shows officers pat the boy down before attempting to handcuff him; however, his hands were too small for the restraints.
"You understand this is very serious, OK? I hate that you put me in this position that I have to do this," one of the officers tells the crying boy. "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 child was reportedly taken from the school and then booked on a felony. Crump claimed officers not only took the boy's fingerprints and DNA, they also held him in a jail cell for several minutes. USA Today reports the felony battery charge was withdrawn about nine months after the arrest.
"At eight years old, three and a half feet tall, and 64 lbs., this little boy didn’t pose a threat to anyone," Crump wrote in a statement posted on Facebook, before describing the child's special needs. "He had an IEP [Individualized Education Program] in place because his disabilities demanded special support by his school—a plan intended to make sure his educational experience was appropriate for him. Instead of honoring and fulfilling that plan, the school placed him with a substitute teacher who had no awareness or concern about his needs and who escalated the situation by using her hands to forcibly move him. When he acted out, the teacher called the police, who threatened him with jail and tried to put him in handcuffs, which fell off because he was too little. This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals ..."
The child was reportedly diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and severe Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
Digennaro described her son's arrest as "traumatic" and said she will never be able to watch the bodycam footage.
"It never gets easier," she said. "I can tell and I can feel how scared my son was and it's impossible to watch."
According to the Daily Beast, the lawsuit lists the city of Key West, three officers, and school officials as defendants. The family is reportedly seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an apology and declaratory judgment that officials violated the boy's rights.
Key West Police Chief Sean T. Brandenburg has defended officers' actions, insisting they did nothing wrong: "Based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed," he said in a statement Monday.