A whirlwind of controversy began when a videotape was released depicting the handcuffing of a five-year old African-American girl at her school by law enforcement officials after she was engaged in disobedient and mischievous behavior. The public outcry led to an investigation as to whether the law enforcement officials exercised bad judgment or conversely acted appropriately.

Was she treated fairly? As with any five-year old, she was small, dwarfed in size, outnumbered and outgunned by three law enforcement officials. Factually, she was sitting in a chair and calmed down when the three sheriffs arrived. The sheriffs forcibly stood her up, pinned her hands behind her back, put handcuffs on her as she screamed, No, and cried.

The scene was videotaped as part of a classroom self-improvement exercise. Before the sheriffs arrived she tore papers off a bulletin board and punched an assistant principal.

Her temper tantrum was caused by her jelly beans being taken from her. What is appalling is the actions demonstrate perhaps one of society's most pernicious evils - racism. A salient issue is whether a five-year old Caucasian girl been treated the same way. Further, her behavior has been characterized as disruptive, reckless, and violent.

How can a five-year old child who does not even have a weapon be violent? When she tried to hit her principal, her arms were too short to reach her which precluded her from causing any harm. Moreover, five-year olds do not even know what the word reckless means.

There is a clear line of delineation between the goals of the juvenile justice system and the adult criminal justice system. This begs the question whether in these types of situations small children should be detained and rehabilitated, consistent with the goals of the juvenile justice system, or on the other hand arrested and punished.

Certainly the measures taken by the three sheriffs who handcuffed her were punitive, which is consistent with the goals of the adult criminal justice system.

A prominent issue is whether the sheriffs violated her constitutional rights. Perhaps before the sheriffs arrived, the actions she engaged in were wrong. Indeed, children should be taught the difference between right and wrong.

However, at the time law enforcement arrived, the child was not acting wrong because she had calmed down and was sitting down. Consequently, she did not pose a threat to anyone whatsoever, not school authorities, classmates, nor the sheriffs.

The egregious conduct in escalating the situation - handcuffing her - constituted disruptive, reckless, and violent behavior itself, and accordingly wrong. The actions of the sheriffs were reprehensible, unconscionable, and inexcusable. At her tender age, does this teach her the right lesson? Absolutely not! The law enforcement agency should be held accountable and implement self-improvement measures with respect to the treatment of citizens, even the youngest ones, with respect to basic fundamental human principles of dignity, freedom, and liberty.

Legally, these law enforcement officials deprived her of rights more valuable than her property right to jelly beans. The sheriffs definitely deprived her of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Moreover, their actions constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Hopefully, this gross miscarriage of justice will be rectified, and justice will prevail in a court of law.

Jermaine A. Wyrick is an Attorney for the Law Offices of Jermaine A. Wyrick P.L.L.C. His areas of practice are civil rights, criminal defense and personal injury. He can be reached at (313) 964-8950, or by email at

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