An Upstate New York family is gearing up to file a lawsuit against the city of Syracuse, claiming officers violated their child’s civil rights when they treated him like a criminal for allegedly stealing a bag of potato chips.
The lawyers suggest the officers from the department have continued to single out the boy, stating that cops placed him in handcuffs while he was swimming in a local pool, claiming stole something again.
Lawyers representing the family of an 8-year-old boy, who on Sunday, April 17, was detained by Syracuse Police Department for allegedly stealing a bag of Doritos from a Dollar General at the corner of Lodi and Butternut streets on the city’s North Side, Syracuse.com reported.
On Wednesday, July 20, the child’s father Anthony Weah, who hired the two civil rights attorneys, announced the plans to file a lawsuit, hoping the three officers involved in the incident would be terminated and that the boy receives millions in damages.
On behalf of the family, they placed a notice of claim in motion against the SPD and the city of Syracuse. A notice of claim is required to alert a city of a future lawsuit and to establish rules for a conversation about a potential settlement.
The story made headlines after a bystander challenged the officer for how he detained the young boy, with witnesses saying the cop snatched the boy off of his bike by his hoodie and dumping out the bag of Cool Ranch flavored chips over the boy.
Video of some of the encounter was captured by Kenneth Jackson, who said he saw the officers snatch the boy off a bicycle outside the store. The footage showed the boy crying as the cop berated him over and over again before taking the boy to his father.
“There’s other ways to rectify this besides scare tactics,” Jackson said. “Now that’s just another youth that’s scarred by the system.”
SPD Chief Joseph Cecile disagrees. He believes while there were “low points” during the incident, the ultimate outcome, including the boy being released to his dad, was an example of “community policing 101.”
The chief noted that the boy had a history of being suspected of stealing from local businesses and this was a chance for them, teamed with the father, to put an end to the ill behavior.
According to the lawyers, their actions only demeaned the boy — criminalizing him over a bag of chips by placing him in the patrol car and using “dehumanizing” language.
Jesse Ryder, one of the lawyers that drafted the complaint said, “This is not community policing. This department is broken. Fundamentally broken.”
Evidence of this, according to Ryder and his co-counsel Charles Bonner, San Francisco, officers from the department, as recently as Wednesday, July 6, violated the boy’s civil rights.
The attorneys said while the boy was on his way to the Schiller Park pool, he was accosted by police. The child’s trip to go swimming was impeded by law enforcement, and a purported video exists showing him in handcuffs as the officers investigated a robbery. A video purportedly attached to the claim shows the 8-year-old remained in cuffs for up to 10 minutes before being released without being charged with a crime.
The SPD confirmed in a statement on Wednesday, the boy was detained in handcuffs at Schiller Park as officers investigated an alleged armed robbery. There was no robbery.
According to Lt. Matthew Malinowski, two groups were fighting. He also noted the boy was later released to his family despite doing nothing.
The lieutenant said in the statement the boy was not charged and no gun was recovered.
The lawyers believe the boy’s rights have been violated because of the color of his skin. “They’re only doing this to the Black community,” Bonner remarked.
As a defense, the SPD is expected to bring up the elementary school student’s tattered history of crime. In addition to pointing to the multiple businesses that have suspected him of shoplifting, officials may point to the child being ticketed on a charge of stealing another boy’s bicycle, a crime brought up in the spring after the first incident.
Ryder declined to address that case, saying he wanted to focus only on the incidents where he claims the boy’s rights were violated by the department.
The family is seeking $3 million from each of the three officers involved in the April incident, requesting should an award be given the cops to pay it from their own pockets. They are also hoping to receive $12 million from the city.
The city has not commented on the allegations of wrongdoing. Representatives for the municipality said it will “respond through the appropriate legal channels.”