The use of excessive force is a judgment call, but this is a child!

Should the standard for excessive force be different for when police encounters a child?

Photo by Laura Barcella (CrimeFeed).

Emilio Mayfield, an African-American, unarmed, 16-year-old boy, is the most recent victim of a “questionable” arrest that was caught on video.  We are currently in an era where it is now normal to log on to a social media website to find our timelines filled with the most recent videos of an arrest caught on camera.  With the growing use of smart phones and their readily available built-in camera, recording an arrest is now the norm.

With the recent movement of “Black Lives Matter”, light has been shed on the recent issues and concerns relating to police brutality in the African-American community and its lasting effects.  Mayfield’s arrest is one of many that are raising a lot of concerns within the community.

[P]rior to the police encounter, Mayfield was on his way to school, when he was stopped by the police officer.

The video of Mayfield’s arrest surfaced Wednesday, September 16, 2015.  The question stemming since the release of the video is whether the police officer used excessive force in the detaining and arresting of a child.

The video of Mayfield’s arrest starts with an unidentified officer restraining Mayfield, whom during the restraint was in a fetal position, with a baton at his ankles.  In the video you can hear Mayfield telling the officer to “get off him” and the officer telling him to “stop resisting.”  The two engaged in a scuffle, which seems to result in the baton hitting Mayfield’s face, because Mayfield is seen in the video covering up his face.  In the midst of the encounter, viewers of the video can hear a voice in the background yelling to the officer, “It’s a [expletive] kid!” and “Get off him! He’s been jaywalking! Leave him alone, he didn’t do anything wrong!”

The officer at some point during the scuffle called for back-up and towards the end of the video at least eight more police officers are seen arriving to the scene to aid in the forceful arrest of Mayfield.  The video ends with Mayfield sobbing as the police escorted him to the patrol car in handcuffs.

What the video does not show is that prior to the police encounter, Mayfield was on his way to school, when he was stopped by the police officer.  Stockton Police spokesperson, Joseph Silva, told ABC News that Mayfield was walking in a “bus only” lane, which is what initiated approaching the 16-year-old by the officer.

In a later interview with CNN, Silva stated that the officer simply approached Mayfield for safety reasons, asking him to move to the sidewalk, and that Mayfield allegedly refused and responded back with obscene language.  The officer then responds by attempting to detain Mayfield, and this is where the recording of the video begins.

The recording leading to the arrest has sparked a lot of concern within the community

During the scuffle, the officer’s body camera is seen on the floor.  Stockon police have stated that as of now the video from the body camera cannot be released due to the investigation.  The release of the video will provide more information about the interaction between Mayfield and the police officer before the physical encounter.

Aside from the previous encounter, which has not been released, the recording leading to the arrest has sparked a lot of concern within the community.  Individuals have gone to social media to express their concerns, with posts mentioning the use of excessive force on a child; found in a search on Twitter—“Cops beats black teen while jay-walking”, “stop excessive force now”; amongst others ending with hashtags (a trendy way of categorizing similar issues/topics on social media), “blacklivesmatter”, “policebrutality”, and “Stockton”.

Is there a line to be drawn when police are dealing with children and adults?

The question of whether excessive force was used on the 16-year-old is not one with a clear answer.  In the video, an onlooker is heard repeatedly informing the police officer that Mayfield is simply just a kid.  NAACP president of the Stockton Chapter, Bobby Bivens told CNN, “The behavior of the officer was totally out of line.”

Is there a line to be drawn when police are dealing with children and adults?  In cases dealing with the use of excessive force by police officers towards children—there does not seem to be a line.

Excessive force is usually defined as any force beyond what is necessary to arrest a suspect and to keep police and bystandars safe.  The measure of whether excessive force is reasonably necessary or excessive depends on “the force a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstances.”

In the context of the Fourth Amendment, the reasonableness in relation to excessive force is usually seen as an objective one.  As stated in Graham v. Connor, the question usually asked by the courts when dealing with excessive force is “whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.”

[I]t seems as though the “reasonableness” standard, is used more often in cases dealing with police excessive force, regardless of the age of the individual.

Was the force used against Mayfield “reasonable” in light of the circumstances?  The bystander in the video yelling at the officer and most of social media does not seem to think so.

There is case law that suggests that even when force is needed, when it comes to children, the standard is different.  But it seems as though the “reasonableness” standard, is used more often in cases dealing with police excessive force, regardless of the age of the individual.

In an interview with ABC News, Silva stated that “whenever there is a use of force by a police officer, there is an automatic internal, administrative review of that force.”  Silva predicts that the officer seen in the video using force on Mayfield was well within his rights to do so, since the officer was simply trying to get his baton back.

In the video, there is a point where both Mayfield and the officer are holding onto the baton and “struggling” over it.  This part of the video raises mixed feelings; on one side of the spectrum one could say that Mayfield was holding on to the baton to prevent the officer from using excessive force, on the other side, one could say that Mayfield was trying to take the baton away from the officer.

In an interview, Reginald Duncan, Mayfield’s grandfather, claims that the officer pulled his grandson in a rough manner, took out his baton, and started to move it in such a way that induced harm onto Mayfield.  Duncan describes his grandson, Mayfield, as a good boy and is very devastated in how the officer dealt with his grandson.

The “reasonableness” standard of whether there was excessive force used by the officer is based the facts and circumstances.  Hopefully the thorough investigation will provide the answers needed in Mayfield’s case.

“If everyone would comply with lawful order and not touch officers’ weapons, this could have been prevented.” 

Silva told CNN, “If everyone would comply with lawful order and not touch officers’ weapons, this could have been prevented.”  But how can he be so sure?

This is not the first time the use of police excessive force has been questioned.  A similar incident happened earlier this summer at a neighborhood pool party in McKinney, Texas.  In the video it shows Eric Caseboldt, a white police officer, aggressively slamming Dajerria Becton, an African American girl, on the ground and holding his knee into her back.  Becton, 15-years-old, is seen in the video wearing only a two-piece bathing suit, clearly unarmed, crying and calling for her mother as Caseboldt puts her in handcuffs.

The McKinney video sparked a lot of controversy and outrage concerning police brutality in the African American community and the use of excessive force on a child.  Since the incident Caseboldt has resigned from the McKinney Police Department and Becton was not charged.

Videos of Mayfield’s and Becton’s arrest are just a few of the many being added to the list of questionable use of excessive force directed towards a child of the African-American race.

Mayfield expresses being traumatized by the incident that took place. In an interview with FOX 40, Mayfield states, “I was wondering if I was going to be one of those black victims out there.”

Incidents like Mayfield’s are unfortunately becoming more and more common, and with it, the tensions of police and excessive force in the black community are rising.  In an interview with ABC, Reginald Duncan ends with the statement, “You raise your children to be law-abiding citizens, and then the very people [that are] suppose[d] to protect them are the ones that hurt them. Now, how do you explain that to our kids?”

The issue of excessive forced used by police officers towards children and young adults in the African American community is one that needs to be addressed.  Mayfield still has to appear in front of juvenile court in response to his two citations—resisting arrest and violating municipal code for trespassing; but his family has since filed a formal complaint against the Stockton police department.

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About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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