Mother of 9-year-old Ore. girl handcuffed by police files lawsuit

A Portland woman says she's suing the Portland Police Bureau for handcuffing her 9-year-old daughter and putting her in the back of a police car.

The girl was taken into custody in early May 2013, a week after police say she was in a fistfight with another girl and hit the other girl's head against a brick wall at the Boys and Girls Club. While police say officers had probable cause to believe the assault happened, juvenile prosecutors never pursued charges.

"My daughter got scared," Latoya Harris told a Citizens Review Committee Wednesday. "She was in a swimsuit, a pink Velcro wraparound towel. I'll never get the image out of mind when they handcuffed her."

The Citizens Review Committee plans to make recommendations to the Portland Police Bureau within the next week in response to Harris' complaint. The police bureau is also asking for public input about possible policy changes.

While Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said there is "no question there are concerns" about the incident, he also said officers did not violate any policies. There are no current guidelines about the age in which children can be taken into custody.

"You can't hold someone to a standard that doesn't exist, but what it can do is bring to the forefront a need for further discussion," Simpson said. "We want officers to have very clear guidelines."

"We were very surprised because we don't hear about these incidents. We don't hear about 9 year olds getting taken into custody by the police," said Mark McKechnie, executive director of Youth, Rights and Justice, a nonprofit youth law firm. "Typically these kinds of schoolyard fights between elementary school age children are not handled through the justice system."

McKechnie was invited to speak Wednesday to the Citizens Review Committee and is making recommendations about how to move forward. He suggests the police bureau adopt a policy requiring a court order before a child who is 9 years old or younger can be taken into custody. He adds 10- and 11-year-old children should only be handcuffed under extremely violent cases. He does not believe the case of Harris' daughter falls under that category.

"She had to change schools because she was getting bullied," Harris said about the time since her daughter was handcuffed and taken to the police station. "It seemed to have broke something in her. It shouldn't have happened. They treated her like a hardened criminal."

Harris said both she and the Boys and Girls Club staff already disciplined her daughter about the fight. She said she would have understood if officers questioned her daughter or told her she made a mistake, but she says they traumatized her by forcing her into the police car with handcuffs.

"She was scared," Harris said. "Do you know what it's like to hear your child say she felt like she was nothing when the whole world should be filled with possibilities?"