Experts say the screaming cops missed an opportunity to comfort a frightened 5-year-old

Psychologists say officers missed opportunity to comfort 5-year-old frightened, and instead made matters worse

East Silver Spring Elementary School was the scene of a meeting between a 5-year-old boy and officers in Montgomery County on January 14, 2020 (Dan Morse / The Washington Post)
East Silver Spring Elementary School was the scene of a meeting between a 5-year-old boy and officers in Montgomery County on January 14, 2020 (Dan Morse / The Washington Post)

The meeting started quietly enough.

“Come here, my friend,” police officer Kevin Christmon asked a 5-year-old boy who had just fled his school in Montgomery County, Maryland.

But his tone soon turned stern and commanding. He grabbed the boy’s arm to pull him into his squad car. What followed, experts say, was a lengthy encounter that not only terrified the child, but ran counter to how well-trained and properly behaved police officers could be ideally suited to such situations.

“This was the first chapter in the textbook for what not to do,” said Stephen Marans, a professor at Yale School of Medicine who founded the Child Development – Community Policing Program “This Poor Little Kid.” Maran has spent 30 years working with officers to build the best ways to communicate With children in crisis, Including police education to switch from Intimidation is what Maran calls a “benign authority” devoid of threats and fears.

“Policemen at their best can be wonderful insulators for the confusing feelings of stressed children,” Maran said.

He was one of five experts requested by the Washington Post To review a 51-minute video with a body camera that was recorded A meeting between two officers and a student at East Silver Spring Elementary School that went viral last year. Their analysis of four key moments is presented below as new details emerge from an internal police investigation into the case, and as the long-running litigation over the standoff is expected to formally end soon after. The county agreed to pay $275,000 to the boy’s family.

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At 1:30 p.m. on January 14, 2020, Kristamon in his patrol car responded to a report that a student had run away from his school. Christamon spotted the boy behind a parked Prius. The officer came down and greeted him and quickly led him to the patrol car.

“No no no no no!” The boy screamed out crying and coughing.

The second policeman, Dion Holiday, spoke to the boy after he was picked up and put in the back of the police car. “Is your mom hitting you?” I asked him through an open door, adding, “I’ll ask her if I can do it.”

(Video: Montgomery County Police Department)

Before the police arrived, it was likely that the child was already frightened, having just escaped from school, said Ryan Mattlow, a clinical child psychologist who directs community programs at Stanford University’s Early Life Stress and Resilience Program. Matlow said that frightened children look to adults to “regulate” their thoughts and emotions.

“They are constantly reading from us, reading the adults to rate: ‘Am I safe?’ Matlow said.

The coming officers, according to experts, Feet not resounding.

“This was, from the jump, an attack,” Maran said. They condemn him. They seemed ill-equipped to appreciate the feeling of that 5-year-old boy. He was talked about and spoke to him with contempt. It was as if they were simply talking to a ‘bad’ child, rather than a restless and frightened child who needed help.”

The police reprimanded a boy who ran away from school. They were suspended and prosecuted.

“They were not sending a safety signal to the baby’s brain. They were sending danger signals,” added Jesica L. Griffin, a clinical psychologist and executive director of UMass Chan Medical’s Pediatric Trauma Training Center. “The baby entered a survival mode, screaming He cries and is visibly upset.

Griffin trains officers, when faced with such behavior in children, to “provoke curiosity rather than anger.”

Griffin said police officers can be equipped to see safety in terms of physical threats. “In defense of law enforcement, their first idea is not always psychological safety, and yet this piece is very important, especially for children,” she said.

“It’s not that we expect law enforcement to be healers,” Griffin said. “But there are things you can do to be a therapist without being a therapist that can really help the child.”

Holiday declined to comment for this report. Christamon, through his attorney, declined to comment. But during an internal police investigation, they conceded that at times their approach could have been better with portions of the confrontation justified. Christamon said the kid was defiant when confronted. Holiday said that her threats to slap or hit the child were simply to “get him to shut up.”

“Shut up that noise!”

The officers returned the child to his school, labeled him “bad” and walked behind him to the office of the assistant principal. The boy refrained from going further or sitting on a chair.

“Sit! Sit!” Christamon screamed immediately before holding the child by his armpits and forcing him to sit on a chair. “number!!!” The child cried, and his voice turned into wailing cries.

Holiday closed quickly on the child. “Shut up the hype! You better shut up this noise now! ‘ she said, bent over a couple of feet from his face. ‘Boy, I tell you: I hope your mother will let me beat you.’ I swear to you, I’ll wear it.” It rose in size, and then Holliday leaned over the boy’s face and unleashed five screams in a row.

(Video: Montgomery County Police Department)

Rochelle F. Hanson, a child psychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, wondered about the “severe response” of a baby who was crying, choking and visibly frightened. “He wasn’t aggressive. … He wasn’t flapping or hitting or kicking or biting or doing any of the things we see often. He was crying.”

She added, “What I saw was fear, they kept ascribing to him being a bad kid. When you start labeling a child as bad, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You tell him he’s worthless. That’s the message this little kid will absorb.”

Two of the teachers were inside the assistant principal’s office most of the time Holiday and Crismon scolded the child. Holiday likened the child to a “little monster” and said someone should “cage him”. She called him the “Patron of the Devil”, and asked the teachers how the boy could be expelled and transferred to another school. “He had to go somewhere else,” she said.

(Video: Montgomery County Police Department)

Hanson, the professor in South Carolina, said teachers should never have allowed police officers to stay in the office: “It seemed so easy for them to say, ‘Thank you for bringing it back.'” We’ll take it from here. “

Even after the officers remain there, teachers can still act to mitigate any emotional damage to the child.

“A child can go through a very stressful or traumatic experience and not produce a reaction to trauma or symptoms of shock — if you have a supportive caregiver,” Griffin said. “So the principal might have stepped in or somebody said, ‘Hey, that’s not good, you’re safe. We’ll make sure you’re safe,’ if someone might be a buffer for him, It could have helped him organize.”

David L. said: Corwin, a child psychiatrist, professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine and past president of the American Professional Association on Child Abuse, says everyone—children and adults—is taught to obey the police. So this may have affected the teachers’ lack of intervention.

In civil litigation related to the encounter, an assistant director in the Chamber spoke on that point. “I didn’t feel I had the authority to tell the police what to do,” she said during the briefing. Another teacher said I felt the same way.

You can beat your child

About 27 minutes into the encounter—after the officers had stopped yelling at the child—his mother arrived after receiving a call from the school. Talk about her son’s behavior soon gave way to officers, who suggested that she use corporal punishment.

“You don’t use a gun, but you can slap that butt over and over,” Holiday said.

Christamon told the woman that her son did not need a therapist. “We repeat, you can hit your child in Montgomery County, Maryland,” he said. “Just don’t leave any cuts, no crazy cigarette burns or nothing like that.”

(Video: Montgomery County Police Department)

Maran spoke of a broad consensus—from the American Academy of Pediatrics and others—that corporal punishment is ineffective and generally contributes to worsening rather than improving behavior. This is the kind of “developmentally informed” instruction that officers and teachers need to hear in their training, Maran said.

The video explained that both officers believed that corporal punishment and threats of beatings could change a child’s behavior. “To give them their due, they seem to actually believe it, and they indicated that corporal punishment was part of their growing up experiences,” Marance said of the officers.

Her lawyers argued in court that Holiday’s statements about hitting the child, among other reasons, included a stipulation that she would first need his mother’s permission.

In court files, and as shown in the video, when the officers recommended the boy’s mother to carry out corporal punishment, she said that This practice appears to be endorsed.

“When parents resort to corporal punishment, they often intensify it and bring it to more severe punishment, which can lead to abuse,” Hanson said. “Having law enforcement convey to a distressed parent that you are allowed to hit your son – that’s not a good message.”

Corwin added that the officer’s belief that misbehavior could be “beaten” on children, which he called wrong, remains widespread. “It is very easy to condemn the way these officers have acted, but they are just representative of our culture and our society,” Corwin said. “It reflects the violence that is rooted in our culture.”

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