In the suit, Digennaro claimed that officers used excessive force and that the school district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because her child lives with ADHD+ and several diagnosed behavioral issues. Also named as defendants are three school resource officers involved in the arrest, a teacher, a principal, and an assistant principal. Digennaro is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Bodycam footage of the December 2018 incident was widely shared online this week after civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Digennaro, released it. In the video, one officer can be heard telling the child, “You’re going to jail.”
“My son has a disability and the authorities tried to make him a criminal,” she said Tuesday during a virtual news conference with Crump. “I’m here for my son, because I refuse to let them make him a convicted felon at the age of 8, just because he was having a mental breakdown.”
Footage of the incident shows three officers arresting the child, who police said allegedly punched a teacher after an outburst prompted by the teacher repeatedly asking him to sit down properly in his seat and approaching him.
One of the officers can be seen patting down the crying child and attempting to put him in handcuffs, but then remarks that the child’s wrists are too small. The officers then ask the child to hold his hands out in front of him and escort him through the building.
Before the child exits the school, one officer tells him, according to the footage and lawsuit: “You understand this is very serious, OK? And, I hate that you put me in this position that I have to do this. OK? All right? The thing about it is, you made a mistake, now it is time to learn from it and grow from it. Right? Not repeat the same mistake again. OK? All right.”
Crump says police transported the child, who is biracial, to an adult prison for processing.
According to the report by the Miami Herald, Key West Police Chief Sean T. Brandenburg said Monday that the officers involved didn’t do anything wrong.
“Based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed,” Brandenburg said.
Crump, who is representing Digennaro along with Devon Jacob and Sue-Ann Robinson, said in a statement, “This is a heartbreaking example of how our educational and policing systems train children to be criminals by treating them like criminals — 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,” continued Crump, who is also representing the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
NowThis reached out to Monroe County School District for comment.