The ACLU of Maryland on Friday said it was "appalling" that Baltimore police officers arrested and handcuffed three 9-year-old girls and an 8-year-old boy at an elementary school.
The officers arrested the children Thursday afternoon inside Morrell Park Elementary School on aggravated-assault charges. The charges were based on a schoolyard fight that occurred nine days earlier.
"The actions of Baltimore City police in arresting and handcuffing eight and nine year old children at school are appalling, and also in plain violation of state regulations regarding school arrests," Sonia Kumar, an attorney with the ACLU. "Even if it was appropriate to treat the fight between children as a criminal justice matter, there is no excuse for treating eight and nine year olds the same way we treat adult criminal suspects."
However, the Baltimore Police Department has defended the arrests, claiming the children were involved in more than just a schoolyard scuffle. One of the children allegedly held another child's head underwater, while another forced a boy's head onto a railroad track and threatened to kill him.
"We handled the detentions as we would any felony suspect," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "I think what they did to the victims speaks for itself. We worked with the school administration to get them out of class. Once we brought them to the office, they were arrested."
But the ACLU said it was "deeply troubling" that the department did not acknowledge a difference between adult and child suspects.
"The fact that the Baltimore City Police Department's chief spokesperson defends the police conduct on the ground that they 'handled the detentions as we would any felony suspect,' reflects a profound problem with the Department as a whole, and how it treats young children of color," Kumar said.
The children are charged as juveniles.
[Boy in handcuffs via Shutterstock]