GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the Grand Rapids Police Department works to build trust with communities of color, the city is reportedly poised to enter mediation over the handcuffing at gunpoint of an 11-year-old girl in 2017.
“The city has indicated that it is desirous of mediating. We’ll give them that chance,” said Steve Drew, who is representing Honestie Hodges, the girl whose treatment by Grand Rapids police prompted outrage and calls for change.
Drew, a founding partner of Drew, Cooper & Anding in Grand Rapids, said he purposely chose not to rush litigation in the case.
“If it’s not a physical injury, if it’s a terrible emotional trauma, in my judgment, you should wait to see what effect this is going to have on the child,” Drew told Target 8 in an interview at his law firm in downtown Grand Rapids. “Because when things happen to a person as a child, it can be life-lasting.”
“It’s beneficial to me to see how they’ve reacted to this. How they feel about police officers because of that one day, that one incident, when excessive actions were taken that did not need to be taken for children of that age.”
In December 2017, Hodges, who had just turned 11, walked out of her home to head to the store but found her residence on Turner Avenue NW surrounded by Grand Rapids police.
Officers were searching for Hodges’ aunt, a 40-year-old white woman who was suspected of stabbing a relative earlier that night shortly before at another location.
Police had learned the aunt might have fled to the home on Turner Avenue.
As officers secured the scene with guns drawn, they handcuffed Hodges – who was screaming – and placed her in the back of a squad car.
Bodycam video shows police removed the cuffs two minutes and 20 seconds later, according to an internal affairs report.
But Hodges’ grandmother, Alisa Niemeyer, said the damage had already been done.
She and Hodges sat down with Target 8 earlier this summer at Drew’s office in downtown Grand Rapids.
Honestie’s grandmother: “I watched my granddaughter’s innocence go away”
“As her grandmother, when I watched the bodycam, I literally watched my granddaughter’s innocence go away,” said Niemeyer while trying to suppress tears. “And it hasn’t been back.”
Hodges herself, now 13, said she struggles and has an “a lot of anger” inside her.
“I feel like I used to be such a good kid, and now I just don’t care. I used to want to go to school, and I liked school, and now I just don’t care,” reported Hodges.
If the night of Dec. 7, 2017, had never occurred, Hodges believes she’d still be “the old me, always happy, wanting to go do stuff.”
“Now, all I want to do is sit in the house, be in my room, not communicate with people,” she said.
Hodges said she used to want to go into law enforcement, but her encounter with officers changed that.
She was glad to see the rioting in the streets of Grand Rapids earlier this summer.
“(Police) have been doing this for so long, and now the people are starting to stand up to them.”
Hodges’ attorney said he’s seeking more than monetary compensation for his client. He wants proof that GRPD have changed how they interact with children.
“I want to know ‘have the officers really got the kind of training that sees 11-year-olds as human beings and not suspects?'” questioned Drew.
While the police chief at the time said what happened to Hodges made him “physically nauseous,” Chief David Rahinsky soon clarified that the officers on the scene had followed procedure and done nothing wrong.
“What that doesn’t mean is that we don’t recognize that there is a need for us to look at what occurred and to identify opportunities to ensure difference outcomes in the future,” said Rahinky at the time.
The city of Grand Rapids declined to talk to Target 8 about Hodges’ case specifically, nor any plans to enter into mediation with her attorney.
But Police Chief Eric Payne sat down with Target 8 to talk about changes the department has made in the way it handles youth encounters.
GR Police Chief: “I think we’ve come a long way.”
“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Payne. “We learned from some of the interactions we had, and we reviewed them, and I think we’re in a better place now.”
Payne pointed to a recent situation as evidence of progress.
After a man was shot to death July 15 at Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue SE, a suspect called police to turn himself in.
Officers arrived at a home to take the man into custody but needed to remove a mother and child from the residence as well.
“We had to secure the residence to further the investigation,” explained Payne. “It was a homicide investigation involving a gun…. (In the past) we may have ordered the (mom and child) out at gunpoint. That was not done.”
Instead, officers, without guns drawn, escorted the woman and child to a safe location in a “respectful and appropriate manner.”
“Clear direction was given to officers that we would treat the lady as a mother and the child as a child,” he said.
Payne said the outcome showed that new juvenile-focused training and the department’s Youth Interaction Policy have a positive impact.
>>PDF: Youth Interaction Policy
The additional training and new youth policy came after several high-profile incidents involving GRPD encounters with children and teens prompted outrage and demands for change.
“We have to make sure we’re doing things better, so we don’t have those negative outcomes that we had in those incidents. We realized we could do it better,” Payne said.
Among its efforts to improve officers’ interactions with youth, GRPD approached the company that provides the department’s interactive simulations for officer training.
The department worked with the company to build simulation scenarios that dealt with juveniles specifically.
“We sent three officers and a lieutenant out there,” said Sgt Patrick Baker of GRPD’s Training Unit.”We explained to them exactly what we were looking for, and the officers stayed on the scene while they built these and while they filmed them.”
The scenarios give officers a safe place to practice de-escalation tactics in volatile situations involving juveniles.
“When you see the age of these children, you definitely handle this differently than you do two, 30-year-olds fighting in front of a bar,” explained Baker, referring to a scenario involving an altercation on a playground.
Baker said the simulations also give trainers an opportunity to reinforce the Youth Interaction Policy, which instructs officers to use special care and the least restrictive methods needed to ensure safety.
Among other rules, the guidelines require officers to contact parents or guardians “as soon as reasonably practical” if a youth is searched or handcuffed.
It also encourages officers to seek positive non-enforcement related interactions with juveniles.
“We are constantly working on trust, building trust with the community where we have that mutual respect,” Payne said.
Grand Rapids police operate multiple programs for children and base officers on-site at Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the city.
“It was important to get a youth policy in place, to give officers better direction,” said Payne.
Payne said while he believes they’ve made progress, he knows there’s still work to do.
“Interaction between law enforcement and people of color is something that’s been an issue for years, and it’s something that we have to address. We have to break down those barriers and build that trust,” he said.
Hodges said, for her, it’s too late.
“If the police car slows down next to me, I can’t do nothing but run,” said Hodges. “There’s no telling what they’ll do to you.”