The 9-year-old girl was wearing a bathing suit, a towel and handcuffs when she was taken away by police, with her mother looking on in shock. Now the arrest last year, over a fight at a Portland, Ore., youth club, is sparking criticism of the police after the girl's mother decided to go public.
Latoya Harris is telling the story of how uniformed officers from Portland's Police Bureau arrested her daughter last spring. She isn't satisfied with the results of a complaint she filed, The Oregonian reports.
"When they put handcuffs on, I thought, 'Wait a minute, this has got to be a joke,' " Harris says. "The look on my daughter's face went from humiliation and fear to a look of sheer panic."
The girl was taken away in a police car, fingerprinted and photographed for a mug shot, the newspaper says.
Harris says her daughter had just finished running through a sprinkler when officers came to talk with her about an incident that happened days before at a nearby Boys & Girls Club. There had been a fight that eventually resulted in apologies, a suspension from the club — and a police report filed by the mother of one of the girls, the Oregonian reports.
That report accused Harris' daughter of hurting another girl by knocking her head against a wall. No charges were filed in the case, but officers who went to the Harrises' house to investigate weren't satisfied with the girl's answers.
" 'I observed (her) breathing speed up, she looked down at the ground ... crossed her arms and would eventually answer my questions,' " Officer David McCarthy wrote in his official report, according to the Oregonian.
Harris intends to sue the police department, according to local TV news KOIN.
The arrest has sparked debate on the Oregonian's website, where readers argued about police procedures and the responsibilities of parents.
"Apparently, common sense is NOT a requirement when hiring for the Portland Police Bureau," one reader wrote. On that site and on the KOIN story, other readers faulted Harris for filing a lawsuit.
A look at the Portland Police Facebook page for the New Columbia community finds that its most recent updates date from last year, when the two officers who arrested the girl, McCarthy and Officer Matthew Huspek, smile in photos at a neighborhood event.
Juvenile public defender Joseph Hagedorn tells KOIN TV that he thinks the police made several bad decisions.
"You have a 9-year-old, you have a safe home, you can make a referral to the juvenile department," he says. "You have plenty of options at your fingertips as a police officer."
Speaking to the Portland Mercury, Hagedorn also "raised concerns about the girl's race — she's African American," the newspaper says.
Latoya Harris tells the Mercury that the arrest has had lasting effects on her daughter, who had reportedly been a good student at Rosa Parks Elementary. After her arrest, Harris says, the girl needed to transfer to a new school. Harris also says she had already punished her daughter for her part in the fight.
Police didn't hold the girl after the arrest — Harris tells the Oregonian that she took the bus to the police station to pick her up. And while she believes the officers were probably trying to put a scare into the girl, Harris says they went too far.
"I didn't get the same girl back," Harris tells the Mercury.