What crime did seven year old Wilson Reyes commit that would warrant him being pulled out of his New York City classroom, handcuffed, and interrogated by police for 10 hours? Did he bring a weapon to school? Threaten to kill someone? Bring drugs to school?
None of the above. He had an altercation with another child and was accused of stealing five dollars.
I’m not a violent person, but I hit a boy on the playground when I was in second grade. I was sent to the principal’s office, my parents were called, they and the boy’s parents came to the school the next day, and I received two paddle swats. It wasn’t the swats that I remember. What I remember is being embarrassed that everyone knew I was in trouble. I remembered that if I hit someone in frustration, I would achieve undesirable results. I learned that my actions hurt him because I was forced to sit across from him and apologize. I will never forget the look in his eyes. And let me anticipate in advance the reaction that many people will have to my story. It’s the way things were done at that time. The purpose (and it worked, believe me) was to make the incident memorable and to teach me a lesson.
I don’t think Wilson Reyes will ever forget the lesson he was taught by the New York City police, either. I think he’ll remember it all of his life, as I did, but I think the lesson he learned was far different from the lesson I learned.
On Friday, November 30th, 2012, Wilson and his classmates were walking home from school. Another child, Seth Acevedo, 9, accused him of stealing five dollars from him. The money had been brought to school for a field trip that ended up being cancelled. The various conflicting stories involving the incident are outlined below. Wilson’s story was that Acevedo dropped the money, and when it fell to the ground in front of Wilson and two other boys, one of them picked it up. Wilson was accused of stealing the money, though no one has yet been able to prove who actually did. The argument that ensued resulted in Wilson hitting nine year old Seth Acevedo.
Four days later, on December 4th (Tuesday), police showed up at Bronx Public School X114 at 10:20 a.m. They pulled Wilson out of class, took him to a private room at the school, and questioned him for four hours.That in itself is appalling considering his age. I am a mother, and remembering the mentality and vulnerabilities of my children at age seven, I know that you can get a confession out of most seven year old children after about five minutes of questioning.
“Reyes was handcuffed and verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed,” documentation shows. (New York Post)
But it didn’t end there.
Not getting the desired results, police decided to charge this seven-year-old child with robbery and take him to the police station. After arriving at the 44th Precinct station house, the police continued to grill Wilson for six more hours.
When Wilson’s mother, Frances Mendez, arrived at the station house, they initially wouldn’t allow her to see Wilson. When she was finally allowed into the room where Wilson was being held, Mendez was shocked to see her panicked and traumatized child seated in a shabby chair with his left wrist handcuffed to a bar on the wall. “My sister and I started crying,” she told the Post.
Mendez quickly snapped a photo with her phone.
“My son was crying, ‘Mommy, it wasn’t me! Mommy, it wasn’t me!’ I never imagined the cops could do that to a child. We’re traumatized,” she said. “Imagine how I felt seeing my son in handcuffs! It was horrible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” (Fox News)
The city ended up dropping the robbery charge against Wilson two days later, on December 26th. As one would suspect, police officials denied the abuse. On January 29th, Inspector Kim Royster claimed that the story was “grossly untrue in many respects, including fabrication as to how long the child was held in the precinct which was less than half of the time mentioned.” (New York Post)
Police sources insist that Wilson was treated no differently than any
minority child young suspect would have been treated.
Now that is scary and that statement is very telling.
Let’s say that Inspector Royster is telling the truth. What he is therefore saying is that Wilson was held and interrogated by unknown adults for three hours instead of six hours. And that is just so much better, isn’t it?
But Royster wasn’t telling the New York Post the truth.
“We responded to a 911 call of a robbery and assault . . . Eventually, [Wilson] was taken back to the precinct and placed in the juvenile room,” another source told the New York Post. “He was charged with robbery. The allegation was that he punched the kid and took his money. He took the money forcibly. The kid came into the precinct a little bit after 3 p.m., and he was out by 7:45 p.m. . . . That’s standard for a juvenile arrest.”
So the amount of time Inspector Royster claimed that Wilson spent in police custody at the station was not “less than half of the time mentioned.” It was more than half of the time mentioned.
Mendez’s attorney, Jack Yankowitz, filed a claim with the city’s Comptroller’s Office on January 28th. The family is suing police and the city for $250 million dollars and accused the NYPD of false imprisonment, physical, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, and deprivation of Reyes’ constitutional rights. (ABC News)
“It’s unfathomable, what the police did. The whole thing sounds so stupid. They were interrogating him like he was a hardened criminal,” Yankowitz said. “If you have a child, a nephew, can you even imagine this happening to them?”
The NYPD is conducting its own investigation and Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne used verbiage similar to that used by Royster.
“While the lawyer’s claims are grossly untrue in many respects, including fabrication as to how long the child was held, the matter is nonetheless being reviewed by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau,” Browne told ABC News in an emailed statement.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio criticizes the NYPD in a statement that is posted on the New York City Public Advocate’s website.
“Seven year olds don’t belong in handcuffs,” he said. ”As a parent, I wouldn’t stand for this in one of my kids’ schools. Our school system’s over-reliance on the NYPD as a disciplinary tool traumatizes our young people, sows distrust in our communities and drains vital city resources away from responding to genuine crimes. This has to stop.”
Seth Acevedo was a victim of frequent bullying. When interviewed by the New York Post, he broke into tears.
“There were always teasing him because of his weight. Sometimes he didn’t even want to go to school because of it” said his father, Santiago Acevedo, 63. (New York Post)
Seth claims that Wilson and another child approached him, reached into his pocket, and Wilson hit him in the face.
“Wilson was the worst bully,” Seth told ABC News. “He would call me names. He would punch and kick me. I wish they never took the cuffs off of him.” He continued “He deserved to be cuffed,” Seth said. “He acts like an animal. . . . People are trying to say, poor Wilson, but he’s nothing but a big bully.”
Seth’s mother, Janet Ramos, is on the side of the police. “I would have handcuffed him, too,” she told the New York Daily News. Seth returned home after the incident Friday afternoon and told his mother “Mommy, I just got robbed.’ Ramos notified the school.
Wilson’s “accomplice” confirmed Seth’s story. Nine year old Javonne McLeod said that Wilson grabbed a dollar bill from Seth’s pocket, and as he did so, more bills fell to the ground.
“Wilson said, ‘Let’s fight for the money,’ ” Javonne told the New York Daily News.. “I was like, ‘Stop, stop stop!’ I said, ‘You know, we can go to jail for that.’
“He’s like, ‘Nah — we’re too little to go to jail.’ ” (New York Daily News)
Wilson’s attorney maintains the child’s innocence.
“The child did absolutely nothing wrong,” Yankowitz said. “He did not take any money from any child. . . . The arrest was a complete violation of his civil rights, of his human rights.”
You can see the video of Seth telling his story here:
The school would not comment because the case is still under investigation. A source confirmed to the New York Daily News that school officials have met with the children and their parents to resolve the situation. (which is what should have been done in the first place)
The U.S. is the number one jailer in the world, but more staggering, we are also number one in the incarceration of juveniles. Schools have been reported to use the correctional system as a method of discipline for even the most minor offences. A juvenile county chief judge testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2012 and said that many kids post no risk to adults, but are reported to police because they “make adults mad” and that arrests do not improve school safety. The same judge stated:
I also witnessed an increase in kids of color referred to my court. By 2004, over 80% of all school referrals involved African-American students. The racial disparity in school arrests was appalling and I felt I was contributing to this system of racial bias by not doing something. (Senate Judiciary Report)
As a mom, I know that many children have incidents of this nature. There is a strong likelihood that Seth’s story is the complete truth. The real story may be a combination of of the three stories: Seth’s, Wilson’s and Javonne’s. The “he dropped it, I didn’t take it” defense is an age-old explanation used by children (and sometimes adults). Children aren’t sophisticated in their defenses. So we can be open minded about the precise details of the events. I have no doubt, after watching the video, that Seth Acevedo has been the victim of bullying and that he was bullied that day. The details are conflicting, however, and another child later confessed to taking the money. Even the adults involved can’t keep their stories straight.
- If the incidents occurred four days prior to the police being called, why did the school call 911 to report an assault and robbery? Did 911 need to be called? Was the child out of control? Could not the parents have been called into the school? Or if laws require that police are involved with any report of theft or bullying, what are the New York laws on police interrogation and booking of a seven year old child? The incident occurred on a Friday after school. The police arrested Wilson on Tuesday. Was there no opportunity for the school to try to address this with the parents?
- Why is there a discrepancy in the amount of time detained at Precinct 44 station house? Mendez: six hours. Inspector Kim Royster: less than three hours. Unknown source: 3.75 hours. I know that these things are heavily documented, so there should really be no confusion at all as to how long Wilson was at the precinct office.
- Another child supposedly claimed blame for the incident, but Javonne McLoud claims that the blame lies with Wilson. Who is the other child?
What a complicated plot, eh? If this crime involved adults, we would have an ongoing front page criminal investigation.
I feel Seth’s pain. My son has been the victim of bullying as well. Last year, his principal called me to report that he and another child scuffled on the playground. Both children were sent to detention (ISS) for the remainder of the day. I heard three stories: the principal’s story, my son’s story, and the story of the mother of the other child. Again, the truth is probably some combination of all three stories. It seems in this particular incident, my child was the (verbal) aggressor and the other child fought back (physically). Both children were appropriately punished at school and at home. The two boys are friends and attend church together. Things were resolved quickly and easily because the school did the right thing: called the parents.
What lesson did Wilson Reyes learn from the trauma he received at the hands of NYC police officers? Even considering that he likely was in the wrong, he learned that a minority child, whatever the circumstances, will be taken into police custody and treated like an adult. He learned that punishment doesn’t fit the crime for some people. He probably also have learned that bullying is a really, really bad thing, and he learned how it feels to be bullied. But that lesson should not be taught to a seven year old child via a ten hour interrogation by armed police officers.
I want Wilson and his family to win the lawsuit, even if he was in the wrong. His civil rights were violated. But I hope they aren’t rewarded a large sum of money. This will not teach Wilson what he needs to learn. Childhood bullies grow up to be adult bullies. They sometimes grow up learning that bullying people can be profitable, which can lead to criminal behavior.
The policemen involved in this case need to be fired. I can not fathom how they couldn’t know that what they were doing was wrong on every level.
I’m not excusing Wilson’s behavior at all. I hope he learns that mistreating people can have harsh consequences. I hope he learns when people are treated with a punishment that far outweighs the crime, justice will be done. I hope that his parents will work with him or get him some counseling to address his bullying issue.
What I don’t want Wilson to learn is that when you make mistakes, you’re not going to be treated differently than other people because you’re Hispanic. I don’t want him to learn all research indicate that minorities are treated disproportionally more harshly. I also don’t want him to learn that you can hurt people and be rewarded with millions of dollars.
I have no doubt that how this situation is handled by all of the adults involved, and the message they choose to send to Wilson, will be a lesson that defines his life. I hope they understand that.
One fact remains, and it is the most important one in this story. No matter what occurred between the children, Wilson Reyes is seven years old. The way he was treated was wrong, and probably criminal.
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.