Activists seek change after 4 kids handcuffed in Maplewood

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (AP) — Activists in Minnesota are demanding an apology and calling for changes in the way officers deal with children after police in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood handcuffed four juveniles, including a 10-year-old, as they investigated an incident for which the kids were later cleared.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said Tuesday that two 12-year-olds, a 16-year-old and the 10-year-old were handcuffed for about 20 minutes and released.

Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, said the 16-year-old is her son, and she went to the scene after he called for help. A video posted to Facebook shows Garraway demanding that officers let the children go.

"I got the scariest call any mother can receive — my baby begging for my help," said Garraway, "They don’t understand the damage they cause. I think this is a learning experience. This isn’t how you treat people’s children."

Garraway said she wants the Maplewood Police Department to change its policy on detaining and handcuffing children. She said the kids will never forget what happened.

"They were innocent babies," she said.

Garraway’s group was among activists planning a march and rally for Wednesday evening, saying they are demanding that the officers be disciplined and that the department apologize.

Steiner said the officers were responding to a report of shots fired at about 9:30 p.m. Monday. The caller reported hearing gunshots and seeing four children on a surveillance camera outside a business, the Star Tribune reported.

Maplewood communications manager Joe Sheeran said police found four children walking in the area. Two ran away as officers approached, but returned about five minutes later. Sheeran said that about 20 minutes into the incident, officers handcuffed the children when police received information about "safety issues." The officers later determined the four were not involved.

Activists dispute the police timeline, saying the encounter lasted about two hours, not 40 minutes. They say the children were searched, questioned, handcuffed and put in the back of separate squad cars.

Attorney Jeff Storms said the case is an example of implicit bias and breeds distrust of law enforcement. Garraway and Tanya Gile, the mother of one of the 12-year olds, said three of the children are Black and one is Hispanic, the Pioneer Press reported.

"Despite the fact they did nothing wrong they were still handcuffed and put in squad cars," Storms said, adding: "It’s hard to envision that this would have happened to white children in other communities in Minnesota."

Steiner said police are still seeking suspects.

Gile said the incident was particularly traumatizing because her 14-year-old son was killed in a car crash last year following a pursuit by sheriff’s officials. Garraway said her son and Gile’s deceased son were best friends. Garraway’s son also lost his father in 2009; the Black man was found dead in a recycling bin after fleeing St. Paul police.