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Handcuffs in Hallways: Mother of handcuffed 5-year-old speaks as WJZ looks at child arrests in Maryland schools

Handcuffs in Hallways: Mother of handcuffed 5-year-old speaks as WJZ looks at child arrests in Maryl
Handcuffs in Hallways: Mother of handcuffed 5-year-old speaks as WJZ looks at child arrests in Maryl 04:43

BALTIMORE -- Each year hundreds of students nationwide are handcuffed at school for minor disciplinary actions with an outsize impact on Black and Hispanic children and kids with disabilities, according to an analysis of data by CBS News' Investigations. 

That data showed Maryland had one of the highest school arrest rates in the country.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren takes you inside a disturbing case where a 5-year-old child was handcuffed and interviewed his mother for the first time, as part of the nationwide 'Handcuffs In Hallways' investigation. 


The Montgomery County case recently settled and dates to January 2020. 

The release of body-camera video led to nationwide outrage

That video begins with officers encountering the child hiding by a car after teachers said he had a tantrum in the classroom and ran out of his elementary school in Silver Spring.

They placed him in the police cruiser and brought him back.

The video, more than 50 minutes long, shows an officer screaming at the crying child and another officer grabbing him and calling him names.

One officer said to "crate him" and he was acting "like a little beast."

Another officer said, "We need to have a conversation with his mom. This is like a little Chucky doll."

Roughly 39 minutes into the video, an officer briefly handcuffs the child.


"When you get older and want to make your own decisions, you know what's going to be your best friend? These are. You know what these are? These are handcuffs," he said.

The handcuffing happened after the child's mom arrived and he had calmed down. We are not identifying the child at the request of his mother and her attorneys. 

"I was afraid when I saw the handcuffs placed on [my son]," his mother Shanta Grant said. "I wanted to react but I don't have money to get an attorney—and then I'm arrested for putting my hands on a police officer."

This is the first time Grant has spoken publicly about the case, which recently lead to a $275,000 settlement with Montgomery County.

"You just think negative, like you don't have legs to stand on. These are officers. They have a badge. …I froze. I didn't know what to do," she told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.

Grant said she never knew all of what her son experienced until he told her after suffering nightmares that police would shoot and arrest him. Then, she saw the video.

"I was very angry. Very sad that a 5-year-old, any human would have to go through that," Grant said. 

An officer even urged Grant to beat her son in the body camera video 

"I can't beat him," Grant said during the exchange. "Why?" the officer asked. "Because I'm not going to prison," Grant replied. "You don't go to prison for beating your child," the officer told her. 


In another exchange several minutes later, an officer tells Grant, "You can beat your child in Montgomery County, Maryland. Just don't leave no cuts or no crazy cigarette burns or nothing like that. We're good."

Reflecting on what happened, Grant told Hellgren, "Regardless of whether the child is five or 15, better training. You should not deal with children like that. You should not deal with humans like that."

James Papirmeister and Matthew Bennett are the mother's attorneys.

"We counted 19 times where one or both police officers threatened a beatIng in some manner of the child or suggested that he should be beaten. 19 times in front of him during the entire 51-minute video," Papirmeister said.

Bennett recalled his initial reaction after seeing the body camera video.

"I called up Jim, and I said, 'You won't believe this. This is just 45 minutes of these officers heaping abuse on this 5-year-old child,'" Bennett said. 


Our investigation found Maryland had the country's second highest arrest rate of elementary students in 2017, according to analysis of U.S. Department of Education data by CBS News. That data showed Maryland elementary schools called police on children 203 times in a single year. 98 of them were arrested. Of those arrested, five were white, 82 were Black and six were Hispanic. Of those who had police called on them, 35 were white, 142 were Black and 16 Hispanic. 

Last school year, overall arrests dropped dramatically to 75 because many students were out of the classroom due to the pandemic, according to numbers from the state department of education

In the 2019-2020 school year, there were 2,484 arrests. A majority—1,434 of those arrested–were Black students, according to the state

The five-year-old's encounter was not included because, technically, he was never arrested. 

You can access Maryland's student arrest data here

"This video, if played in its entirety, is in and of itself a training video of what not to do when dealing with a five-year-old under any circumstances," Papirmeister said.

Bennett told WJZ the officer's body-worn camera was critical. 

"There's no chance this case would've even become a local story without the video," he told Hellgren. "It would be the word of a five-year-old versus the adults who are the alleged wrongdoers, and I just don't think there would be the full story unless there were video."

The officers were briefly suspended, and the county executive said because of what happened, there have been changes in how police are trained.

As for the child who was handcuffed, his mom said he is still feeling the impact. 

"Sometimes we'll go out, he'll see officers and he'll freeze up. I have to reassure him that not every officer is mean," his mother said. 

Hellgren asked her message to other parents.

 "Listen to your children," Grant said. "They may not tell you everything. There may be bits and pieces. They may forget, but pay attention. Everything he told me, that video showed it."

"We're happy to have settled the case, and we're happy that there will be some money in a trust fund for him to deal with these issues when he gets older," Papirmeister told us. "[The officers] have this reflexive 'everybody's a bad criminal' response. That one-size-fits-all response explains a lot of police misbehavior around the country."

Montgomery County provided WJZ with the following statement about the settlement in the case:

"The Office of the County Attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland has announced the settlement of the lawsuit involving the Jan. 14, 2020 incident at East Silver Spring Elementary School. The parties settled all claims arising from the incident. The family received a total of $275,000 from the County's Self-Insurance Fund. Of that total, $220,000 was paid on behalf of Officers Dionne Holiday and Kevin Christmon and $55,000 was paid on behalf of the Board of Education for Montgomery County.  Pursuant to the "Release and Settlement of Claim" agreement, the parties released each other from all claims with no admission of liability with the lawsuit to be dismissed with prejudice.

'We are pleased to see that the parties involved in this case reached a settlement; I had been pushing for this for quite some time," said County Executive Marc Elrich. "This incident has been thoroughly reviewed, including as part of the external audit conducted by Effective Law Enforcement for All (ELE4A), and has led to changes in officer training, incident reporting processes, and clarification of how officers should interact with students in our schools.'"

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