Facing criticism and threats of lawsuits over the April 28 arrest of a 12-year-old boy who allegedly spit on an officer, Sacramento police released body camera video Wednesday of the incident and declared that officers acted properly when they placed a “spit mask” over his head.
“Our officers involved in this incident appropriately used a spit mask to protect themselves and defuse the situation,” Chief Daniel Hahn said in a statement accompanying the video. “I am grateful that our officers were willing to proactively intervene when they observed suspicious activity, and that nobody was injured during this encounter.”
The incident near Del Paso Boulevard and El Camino Avenue began when two officers spotted a private security guard chasing someone and stopped to help, police said.
“As the officers helped the security guard with detaining the subject, he spit in the face of an officer multiple times,” police said in a statement. “Additional officers responded to the scene to assist.
“The officers put a spit mask on the subject to prevent him from spitting.”
The incident was recorded on video by bystanders and posted on social media and since has gone viral, and the family’s lawyer, Mark Harris, said Tuesday night that he expects to file lawsuits over the arrest of the boy on charges of resisting arrest and battery against a police officer.
The bystander video as well as the police video appear to show the 12-year-old spit at an officer as she tried to handcuff him and urged him to stay calm.
“Let me go, I didn’t do nothing to you,” the boy shouts before calling her a “racist a-- b----.”
“Kid spit on me,” the officer says, and later says he spit on her three times, leading to the decision to place a mesh spit mask over his head.
That decision led to the boy shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, take this bag off my head.”
A short time later his mother arrived, crying out, “That’s my baby, what’s going on, he’s only 12 years old.
“Explain, why does he have a bag over his head? He’s only 12 years old.”
The officer explains that the boy was being chased as a suspected shoplifter and that he spit in her face three times before officers decided to use the mask.
“I can’t just let him ...” the officer said. “I didn’t want to do that. I’m actually really upset that this happened because he’s a young child. The last thing we would want is to hurt a child.”
“That escalated,” she also said. “That did not need to go this way.”
The videos from police and bystanders show tense moments where officers politely but firmly tell people recording they can continue doing so but to give them some space, and shows the mother exhorting bystanders to continue recording.
The boy’s name has not been released, but the family attorney issued a video including him and his family where he insists that people need to see what happened.
Harris, the attorney, also said he plans to file lawsuits over the matter. He did not respond to a message Wednesday morning from The Bee.
Harris runs the Sacramento office of the Ben Crump law firm, a national civil rights legal firm that also represents the family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed 22-year-old black man shot to death by Sacramento police a year ago.
The Clark shooting led to numerous protests and the arrest of 84 demonstrators in March, as well as more than a year of negative publicity for the city.
The video of the 12-year-old’s arrest renewed such memories, with critics speaking out on social media and headlines such as one in USA Today reviving the controversy: “The arrest of a 12-year-old boy in the same city where Stephon Clark was killed has renewed criticism of police.”
Lawyers for the Clark family sued, seeking at least $20 million over the shooting, but settlement talks apparently have stalled for now.
Both sides met in a confidential settlement conference in federal court in Sacramento on May 7 and “progress was made,” court filings state.
The city council was to discuss the matter Tuesday afternoon in closed session, but apparently no breakthroughs were made, because on Wednesday morning U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman issued an order relieving both sides from communicating with him for now on a settlement.
“The court was informed by parties a settlement is not appropriate at this time,” Newman wrote.