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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Police For Trying To Handcuff Boy Who Punched Teacher

Key West, FL – A federal judge has determined Key West police did not violate the rights of an eight-year-old boy by attempting to handcuff him after he punched one of his teachers three years ago.

The assaultive child’s mother, Bianca Digennaro, filed a lawsuit against the city, the Key West Police Department (KWPD), and three Monroe County School District employees in August of 2020 with the assistance of her attorney, Benjamin Crump, the Miami Herald reported.

“A mental health crisis at a school, and they feel it is appropriate to arrest, charge and have him become a convicted felon at eight years old,” Crump lamented after filing the lawsuit last year.

The boy’s arrest was captured on bodycam video.

In an 18-page order filed on June 14, U.S. District Court Chief Judge K. Michael Moore noted that KWPD Officer Kenneth Waite spent less than 30 seconds trying to handcuff the boy before determining his wrists were too small for the handcuffs, the Miami Herald reported.

Officer Waite did not cause an “physical pain or injury” during the attempted handcuffing, Moore said.

“Waite then abandoned the effort and escorted [the boy] unrestrained” out of the building, the judge wrote. “The officers explained to [him] why they were arresting him, speaking to him calmly and explaining the severity of his actions.”

Although the boy was crying and visibly upset during the arrest, “the attempted handcuffing can hardly stand to serve as the sole or primary basis for any emotional injury he suffered as a result of the events that transpired that day,” Moore continued.

The judge concluded the officers did not use excessive force against the boy and that they had not violated his rights during the arrest, the Miami Herald reported.

He further ordered the case to be closed by the clerk of court.

“Judge Moore ruled that handcuffing the minor was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment and that’s why he disposed of the case,” said Scott Alexander, who represented the officers along with is partner, Michael Burke.

“I’m very pleased and gratified with the court’s very thoughtful and thorough decision,” Burke concurred, according to the Miami Herald.

Moore already dismissed the lawsuit’s claims against the school district employees back in March, according to the paper.

The incident occurred inside Gerald Adams Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2018, after the boy repeatedly refused to sit in his seat in the school cafeteria, despite his teacher’s requests, the Miami Herald previously reported.

The teacher told investigators that she was concerned about the child’s safety, so she ultimately told him he needed to sit down next to her, according to the arrest report.

But the boy allegedly ignored her directive and warned her not to “put her hands on [him],” the teacher said.

At that point, the teacher told the child to walk with her, police said.

“My mom is going to beat your -ss,” he retorted, just before he punched her in the chest with his right hand, according to the arrest report.

The teacher brought the out-of-control child to the school’s administrative office, where they encountered KWPD Officer Michael Malgrat, the Miami Herald reported.

Officer Malgrat noted in the arrest report that the child “had his hands clenched into fists and was postured as if he was ready to fight.”

School officials contacted the child’s father, Herschell Major II, who responded to the elementary school and told Officer Malgrat he wanted him to place his son in handcuffs, Moore said in the order, according to the Miami Herald.

The judge noted that Officer Waite, the one who ultimately attempted to place the boy in handcuffs, was not privy to and did not have the benefit of the discussions between Malgrat and [Major] regarding teaching a lesson at any time prior to or during his attempted handcuffing of [the boy].”

Digennaro’s attorneys later claimed police lied about Major saying he wanted his son handcuffed, the Miami Herald reported.

The KWPD ended up arresting the boy on a battery charge and escorted him out of the school unhandcuffed.

“You understand this is very serious, OK?” one of the officers told the child as they were leaving the school. “I hate that you had to put me into this position to do this. The thing about it is, you made a mistake. Now it’s time for you to learn about it and to grow from it, not repeat the same mistake again.”

The boy was ultimately booked into the juvenile justice facility in Key West, according to the Miami Herald.

The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case, and the charge was dropped in October of 2019.

Crump posted bodycam footage of the child’s arrest to Twitter after filing the lawsuit.

He alleged that the boy has “special needs,” and bizarrely claimed he was taken to “an adult prison for processing.”

“Unbelievable!! @KWPOLICE used ‘scared straight’ tactics on 8yo boy with special needs. He’s 3.5 ft tall and 64 lbs, but they thought it was appropriate to handcuff and transport him to an adult prison for processing!! He was so small the cuffs fell off his wrists!” the civil rights attorney wrote.

“This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals,” he said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “If convicted, the child in this case would have been a convicted felon at eight years old. This little boy was failed by everyone who played a part in this horrific incident.”

KWPD Chief Sean Brandenburg issued a statement defending his officers last August.

He noted that they followed “standard operating procedures” and had done absolutely nothing wrong, the Miami Herald reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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