Child handcuffed: GR chief defends officers; protest planned

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky says officers who briefly handcuffed a 12-year-old black child while investigating a report of a shooting followed their training.

“Officers showed compassion, they showed good judgment, the individual, the 12-year-old who was handcuffed was handcuffed for a minute and change, the tone of the officer, I think was appropriate. Officers did as they were trained to do, which puts themselves and the individuals they are dealing with in the best possible position in terms of officer safety and community safety,” Rahinsky said Tuesday, after playing footage of the Oct. 9 incident from an officer’s body camera. 

But Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack disagrees.

“Our chief has made a terrible mistake that we are going to agree to this as normal behavior,” Womack stated in a Tuesday Facebook post announcing his plans to hold a protest march.

During the Tuesday news conference, Rahinsky played a recording of the 911 call that led to the response. GRPD altered the caller’s voice to protect her privacy.

“Somebody shot one of my neighbors,” the panicked caller tells the dispatcher before ordering relatives to back away from a window.

The caller said from a second-floor window, her adult daughter saw a woman beg someone not to shoot her before being shot three times.

The caller also gave a detailed description of the home where she said the shooting happened, located at Batavia Place NE near Fulton Street.

The report turned out to be bogus, but while investigating, officers called out the family that was inside the home the caller described.

Rennae Wooten said police pointed guns at her kids and briefly handcuffed her 12-year-old daughter when they responded to her home.

Body camera footage Rahinsky released Tuesday showed the girl following police orders to walk backwards, kneel and put her hands behind her back with her palms up before police briefly handcuffed her.

In the video, an officer tells the girl she is OK before asking the girl her name. When the girl tells police she’s 12, the officer tells her they will quickly check her for weapons before taking the handcuffs off.

Wooten and police agree that the child was only handcuffed for a few moments, but Wooten said her daughter remains scared and hasn’t returned to school since the incident.

The 12-year-old’s family alerted Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack to the incident. Womack took to Facebook, where he criticized police for their response to this incident, in light of how they’ve handled similar situations involving black children who had committed no crime.

Rahinsky credited Womack for playing “an important role” in serving as a liason between police in the community, but said the commissioner criticizing the department in a Facebook post instead of reaching out to GRPD or encouraging the mother to do so “does a disservice to both the community and the police department.”

“Some of these issues transcend race. This didn’t need to be a racialized issue,” Rahinsky said.

“This response would be the same at any zip code in this city. It would be the same if it was my house, yours, or Commissioner Womack’s, based on the limited information we had, the danger involved both to the officers involved and the members of the community,” he added.

Womack disagreed.

“It is racial. If they get a call to Amway they won’t put the Devos (sic) family in handcuffs and say march out backwards,” he stated on Facebook Tuesday.

Womack also disputed Rahinsky’s statement that he didn’t learn of the situation until a media inquiry nearly a week after the incident.

“I did make my usual call to the police about this before I spoke to the news… I gave the cops one week to call me or better yet call the family,” he wrote.

Rahinsky said the internal review into the case is “evolving,” since the GRPD became aware of the incident late Monday. He said the agency still has hours of body camera video to review.

Womack said police “showed the nicest part they could find” and called on GRPD to release all of the video and other body camera footage.

Now the commissioner is planning to hold an “All Kids Matter” march to protest the Grand Rapids Police Department handcuffing innocent children. He said the demonstration will start at 5 p.m. Sunday at Division Avenue and Fulton Street.

“I will give up this seat for the Wooten family and every other family seeking justice in this city. I am asking my community to back me and other city leaders up,” Womack wrote.

Rahinsky said the policies his police department put in place since the handcuffing incident involving 11-year-old Honestie Hodges has made it a stronger department. He also credited community input for the agency’s improvement.

However, Rahinsky said there’s still work to be done, based on how he became aware of the girl being handcuffed.

Rahinsky asked community members to reach out to the police department if they have any concern about an officer’s handling of a situation.

“We pride ourselves on transparency and accountability,” said Rahinsky.

Rahinsky also said investigators think the 911 caller believed the shooting happened, and there was no malicious intent. Police believe either the caller was mistaken or the shooting victim didn’t seek medical treatment.

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