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Chicago police pointed guns at kids, cuffed 8-year-old during raid, lawsuit alleges

An Illinois family has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging Chicago police officers used excessive force during a home raid in March when they pointed guns at children and handcuffed an 8-year-old boy. Attorney Al Hofeld, Jr. filed the lawsuit Wednesday after CBS Chicago broke the story Tuesday about the March 15 incident, during which officers executing a search warrant at the home of Domonique Wilson ordered Wilson and her three children, ages 6, 8 and 9, out of the home at riflepoint.  

Hofeld said the family was freezing and drenched in rain as they were made to stand outside the home, and Wilson's 8-year-old son Royal was handcuffed for between 35 and 40 minutes and suffered bruising to his wrist. The children, he said, were terrified, fearing they would be shot. All remain emotionally traumatized and suffer nightmares and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

"None of these children, none of these family members presented any threat whatsoever, real or apparent, at any time to any of the police officers on the scene," Hofeld said during a Wednesday press conference. "None of the family members resisted or fled. There was zero reason to point guns at them."

Royal Wilson told CBS Chicago he was scared for his little sister and didn't know what was going to happen to him. 

"They made me stand up straight and my hands behind my back, and they had them tight," Wilson told the station. "My legs were shaking."  

Speaking at the press conference, Domonique Wilson said she felt helpless as she watched her child crying because the handcuffs were too tight.

"I had to reassure him, nothing is going to happen to us," she said. "Hold on, stay strong and keep watching mommy."

Royal Wilson, 8, demonstrates how he was handcuffed during a March 15 police raid of his Chicago home CBS Chicago

Chicago police told CBS Chicago it's not the department's protocol to handcuff children. They said the handcuffs were removed once officers learned Royal's age. In a statement, the department said the subject of the search warrant — Wilson's adult son, according to Hofeld — was at the home, and officers had information there was an assault rifle inside. The warrant, obtained by CBS Chicago, says a confidential informant said the adult son had a illegal guns in the home and that he had "interacted with" the individual "over the past year at [the Wilsons'] residence."

"Due to the risk involved with a weapon that could penetrate body armor, the occupants of the residence followed verbal direction given over a public address system and exited the residence without needing to breach the door," Chicago police said in a statement to CBS Chicago. 

But no guns were found and no arrest were made, the station reports. Wilson's address was listed on the search warrant, but Hofeld said her adult son never lived at the home — he only happened to be staying overnight the morning of the raid.

The family also said officers tore apart the family's ceiling during the search and confiscated cash.

The police statement said the department "makes every effort to ensure the validity and accuracy of all information used to apply for an execute search warrants."    

CBS Chicago has reported on other instances of police pointing guns at children during raids during a year-long investigation. Hofeld said the Wilson family's lawsuit is the fifth he's filed against the Chicago police department during which children of color had guns unnecessarily pointed at them by officers, and a sixth case is pending. He said he represents 15 children "who in total illustrate for Chicago the silent mass trauma of kids of color caused by the police department's routine practice of pointing guns at children."

In all six cases, Hofeld claims officers were executing a search warrant at a wrong residence or based on erroneous information. But he said children can be traumatized during residential raids "whether the search warrant is sound or not."  

Hofeld's lawsuit points to a Department of Justice finding during its 2017 investigation of the Chicago police that the department has a "pattern or practice" of using less-than-lethal, excessive force against children for non-criminal conduct. Hofeld's lawsuit alleges that suggested reforms haven't been enacted.   

In March, Lori Lightfoot, now the newly sworn-in mayor of Chicago, responded to CBS Chicago's reporting and called on police superintendent Eddie Johnson to "own and take responsibility" for the issue. Johnson has declined interview requests from the station.

The station's investigation into how police raids affect children has reportedly led to proposed legislation, House Bill 51, which passed the Illinois Senate with a unanimous vote Tuesday and is now headed to the state House for a vote. It outlines steps officers would have to take when children are present during police activity to ensure they're safe, both physically and psychologically.

"Nobody should get treated the way that me and my family and all these other families got treated," Wilson told CBS Chicago. "These are children that are being traumatized — being woken up out of their sleep to guns pointed at them, thinking that they're about to get shot down."

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