A bystander video that shows Syracuse, New York, police detaining a sobbing 8-year-old boy has prompted an internal investigation, officials said.
The video, which garnered 5 million views as of Wednesday morning, shows an officer who is behind the boy and restraining him by both arms while the child is crying.
NBC News does not know what occurred before a bystander began recording.
The one-minute clip begins with a man off-camera asking the officer holding the boy what police are doing before commenting that the child “looks like a baby to me.”
Another officer appears and tells the man: “He’s stealing stuff. If he breaks into your house and steals something.” His voice then becomes inaudible.
“Y’all treat him like a hardcore, blooded f—— killer,” the man replies.
The officer says: “Keep walking dude. You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
The camera then pans to a police vehicle where the boy was placed.
A second voice can be heard.
“That’s crazy,” the person says. “How old is he? 10 years old?”
Syracuse police in a statement Tuesday said the child was never placed into handcuffs and body camera footage was being reviewed.
“We (SPD) are aware of a video being shared on social media involving several of our Officers and juveniles accused of stealing from a store on the City’s northside. The incident, including the Officers’ actions and body-worn cameras, are being reviewed,” the statement said. “There is some misinformation involving this case. The juvenile suspected of larceny was not placed in handcuffs. He was placed in the rear of a patrol unit where he was directly brought home. Officers met with the child’s father and no charges were filed.”
Syracuse police did not respond to a request for additional comment on the incident, including when it occurred. Instead, a department representative provided a statement from Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh.
Walsh said what occurred demonstrates the continued need to support children and families while investing in alternative responses “to assist our officers.”
“When the online video was first shared with me on Monday, I was concerned. I asked Chief Buckner and the SPD to review all body worn camera footage, which is ongoing,” the mayor said.
“Officers were responding to a call for a larceny that had just occurred at a nearby business. Based on what I have seen, the body camera footage demonstrates no handcuffs were used by officers at any time. The child was placed in the back of a patrol car and taken home to his family. The officer knew the child from prior interactions and explained to him that he was being taken home. The officers returned the child to his family and discussed the incident with his father before leaving without filing any charges.”
NBC affiliate WSTM of Syracuse reported the boy in the video is 8 years old. The news station also spoke to the bystander who said he shot the video.
“I felt his terror and decided to intervene,” the bystander, Kenneth Jackson, said. Police did not handle the matter correctly, according to Jackson.
“There’s a way that the police need to interact with kids, and what they did that day was completely unacceptable,” he said.
Syracuse police did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on if it has policies on interacting with juvenile suspects.
Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Wednesday that Syracuse police unnecessarily traumatized a child.
“No child should ever experience abuse at the hands of law enforcement. There is no justification for the Syracuse police to traumatize an 8-year-old,” Sisitzky said.
“Spinning concern about petty crimes into fears about public safety is irresponsible and reckless, causes a lifetime of harm to Black and Brown children, and is straight out of a broken playbook. The City of Syracuse must investigate this incident immediately and hold these officers accountable for any wrongdoing.”
But David Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University who worked 20 years as a police officer in Michigan and Florida, said Syracuse police handled the matter by the book.
Thomas, who is Black, said it would be nearly impossible for police to detain a child that young without the minor ending up in tears.
“I’m not troubled by it because I know what the end result was. If you told me, ‘At 8-years old, they cuffed him and took him to jail,’ I would have an issue with it. But to take him to his parent, or his dad, I have no problem with that.”
Thomas explained that when dealing with juveniles, officers can counsel a suspect and release them at the scene, take the suspect to the station and release them to a parent without filing charges, or they can opt to file charges and release the suspect to their legal custodian at the station.
In the most serious cases, officers can file charges and take the suspect to juvenile detention.
Some minority communities are hesitant about their interactions with police, Thomas said. Under the current climate in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests — along with more recent incidents like this month’s fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya by an officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan — Thomas says that how police interact with certain communities is under heavy public scrutiny.
“It stays fresh in their brains and everyone thinks that even when police are doing the right thing, they want to look at them and say what they’re doing is wrong,” Thomas said.