PORTLAND, Ore. – Two Portland police officers investigating a fight at a youth club came to the home of a 9-year-old Portland girl, handcuffed her as she stood in a blue and white bathing suit, and led her away to be processed downtown on an assault charge.
The girl's mother and some in the juvenile justice system call the handcuffing and arrest a year ago excessive.
Now, a citizen panel that investigates police misconduct plans to look into it. Critics of the incident are calling for the Portland Police Department to sharply restrict officers from taking a child younger than 10 into custody.
"When they put handcuffs on, I thought, `Wait a minute, this has got to be a joke,' " Latoya Harris told The Oregonian. "The look on my daughter's face went from humiliation and fear, to a look of sheer panic."
Joseph Hagedon, chief supervising attorney for the Metropolitan Public Defender's juvenile unit, said it's a concern that the fight had occurred a week earlier, and the girl was at home with a parent.
"It was way over the top for them to do that," Hagedon said.
Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said officers use handcuffs as a safeguard, and they acted according to bureau policy.
Police rules require juveniles taken into custody for any felony or serious misdemeanor charge such as the one police alleged to be fingerprinted and photographed at the forensics division, he said. It makes no age distinctions.
"We really don't think there's circumstances where children under 10 should be taken into custody," said Mark McKenchie, executive director of Youth, Rights & Justice, a not-for-profit law firm that serves vulnerable children.
He and Hagedon are calling for changes in city law and police rules to require a juvenile court judge's order before police can take a child younger than 10 into custody. Children 10 and 11 could be taken into custody without a judge's approval only for serious felonies.
The 9-year-old girl was held for an hour and released. Prosecutors didn't take the case to trial.
The action has been reviewed by the Independent Police Review Division, overseen by Portland's independent auditor. It found officers violated no Police Bureau policies and forwarded the complaint to the officers' supervisors.
Last month, Harris took her story to the Citizen Review Committee, an advisory and monitoring panel that hears complaints of alleged officer misconduct against Portland police, and it agreed to hear testimony. The weekly Portland Mercury first reported Harris' account.