KEY WEST, Fla. – A federal lawsuit alleging civil and disability rights violations has been filed on behalf of Bianca N. Digennaro, the mother of an 8-year-old special needs child who was arrested by police in Key West.
The arrest took place in December 2018 but blew up on social media Monday after bodyworn camera footage of it was posted on the social media pages of noted Tallahassee civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
Crump held a virtual news conference with Digennaro on Tuesday, saying the child suffered severe psychological injury as a result of the arrest at Gerald Adams Elementary School.
“My son has a disability and the authorities tried to make him a criminal,” Digennaro said. “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.”
Beyond the video that shows the 3-foot-5, 64-pound boy being handcuffed, Digennaro said her son’s mouth was swabbed, his DNA and mughot were taken, he was fingerprinted and then locked in a cell for several minutes.
The arresting officer noted in the video that the boy’s hands were too small to be cuffed.
According to the arrest report, the boy was accused of punching a teacher in the chest after being reprimanded for not sitting correctly in the cafeteria during lunch.
He was reportedly charged with felony battery. Those charges were eventually dropped.
In their complaint, Crump and his legal team allege that the boy, who is multiracial, has severe ADHD and diagnosed behavioral issues. They say the school knew and had educational and behavior plans in place that weren’t followed.
Attorney’s say the way he was reprimanded was improper, based upon his disabilities, calling the arrest excessive force.
“It is outrageous, it is shocking — and most of all, I believe, it is unconstitutional,” Crump said.
He added: “If this is swept under the rug, and nobody speaks to it, this will happen again, as it has happened before.”
Digennaro says that when her son was getting arrested, she was in the hospital, having a tumor removed. Her son’s father was actually inside the school, with the bodycam video showing the moment the boy asks for his dad.
An officer told the boy that his father had left.
“Could you imagine a child thinking that their father just left them?” another plaintiffs attorney Devon Jacob said. “And that’s what a police officer told him. That’s disgusting.”
Defendants in the lawsuit include police officers involved in the arrest (including a school a resource officer), a teacher, principal and assistant principal at the elementary school, as well as the Monroe County School District and the city of Key West.
The Key West police chief says that “based on the report, standard operating procedures were followed” and a spokesperson for the department says they are “unable to comment on pending litigation.”
The Monroe County School District also declined to comment “due to ongoing legal proceedings.”
See a replay of the news conference below:
The civil lawsuit can be seen below: