It was the smack heard ’round the YouTube. On Sunday, Aug. 4, Eugene police officers were attempting to enforce a court order transferring custody of a 10-year-old child from his mother to his father at Monroe Park when an officer struck the child.
When the officers arrived the mother told the child to run. She says on her blog, “Please Don’t Steal My Baby” at wkly.ws/1j7, the father is not biologically related to the child, and the child doesn’t know him well. An officer caught the child, who bit him, and the officer slapped the child’s head. Bystanders filmed the incident on a phone and uploaded it to YouTube, and it’s been featured on The Huffington Post and Inside Edition.
“It’s outrageous that an officer would slap a child in the face under that circumstance,” says Laura Fine Moro, a criminal defense attorney who regularly deals with use of force issues. “The officer had other options, not the least of which is that he could have simply picked the child up and carried him.”
EPD Captain Karl Durr describes the incident as a tap, not a slap, and says it was intended to distract the child so he would stop biting. “Obviously, the child was not injured, the child didn’t fall to the ground, the child’s head didn’t even snap back,” he says. “Looking at that, it was effective.” The officer’s skin wasn’t broken, but EPD says there was a red mark.
Durr says EPD doesn’t have separate use of force guidelines for children, and there’s no textbook answer on how to move an unruly child, especially when bystanders are heckling the officer. “It’s like ground-fighting,” he says. “You just do your best to control the situation. I’m not going to say the officer should have done it differently. I think he did a good job of getting the child there without using restraints and getting him back to where he needed to.”
“Officers receive hours and hours of training and refresher courses on how to subdue and/or restrain individuals, and on how to avoid injury to themselves and others,” Moro says. “This officer created the circumstance which led to him being bitten and then responded in anger when it happened.”
The Eugene police auditor has initiated an investigation into the incident, and Oregon Department of Human Services plans a thorough investigation as well.
The video of the incident can be viewed at http://wkly.ws/1j5.