Anthony F. was the 8-year-old in that viral video of Syracuse officers detaining a kid for stealing a bag of chips. Now lawyers for his family are suing, claiming he was handcuffed a second time in July and is the target of harassment by Syracuse police.
Lawyers for Anthony said they filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday afternoon.
The lawsuit claims during two separate incidents – the stop over Doritos on April 17 and a July 6 detainment when Anthony was handcuffed near Schiller Park – Syracuse police officers used excessive force and held the child unlawfully.
In footage of the incident reviewed by Central Current, an officer is seen speaking on the phone with a woman referred to as Anthony F.’s mother while the boy is being handcuffed by another officer.
“We have [Anthony]. … there was an incident here at Schiller Park pool and we are trying to figure it out,” the officer said. “Your son is being detained. He is in handcuffs at this point until we figure out where we are going, OK?”
The cuffing caused confusion among bystanders.
“How [are you going to put] the wrong [person] in handcuffs if you do not know what happened?” an onlooker is overheard saying in the video.
Charles Bonner, a California attorney representing the boy, confirmed his client was held in handcuffs for eight to 10 minutes, but that, to his knowledge, there has been no official police report written on the situation.
Bonner said his understanding based on the investigation the lawyers have conducted so far is that the most recent police encounter occurred after someone reported shoes had been stolen and juveniles were carrying a BB gun.
Syracuse Police Department spokesman Sgt. Matthew Malinowski said in a statement that in the July 6 incident, two victims reported they were attacked by a group of four young people and one of them had a gun. The victims reported that the suspects stole something from them and fled the scene, he said.
When police officers arrived, “one of the suspects was detained with handcuffs, for everyone’s safety,” Malinowski said.
Police later determined the interaction reported was “more of a fight call than a robbery,” Malinowski said. The handcuffed “suspect” was released to a guardian without arrest, Malinowski said. No gun was found and no injuries were reported, he said.
The boy’s lawyer argued police should not have cuffed the 8-year-old in that situation.
“No one said that [Anthony F.] who had just left his house, no more than two minutes [prior to his encounter with police] did anything wrong,” Bonner said. “But yet, [officers] put this little kid in handcuffs … They had no right. They didn’t see him do anything.”
Malinowski said the department was reviewing the notice of claim and “will respond through the appropriate legal process.”
At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, Bonner and East Syracuse lawyer Jesse Ryder appeared with the boy’s father Anthony Weah. The lawyers said they would argue the city and police officer committed civil rights violations, including claims of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and false arrest. The attorneys said the plaintiffs are seeking restitution for damages based on state and federal claims.
In notice of claim filed with the city of Syracuse, a copy of which was provided to Central Current, the lawyers allege several claims of physical and psychic injuries, which they say led Anthony F.’s family to allegedly seek medical care.
Bonner said the case should raise concern among local residents about police conduct. The Bonner-Ryder team has represented multiple plaintiffs in lawsuits against the city of Syracuse and its police department, including the police brutality case of Alonzo Grant, which resulted in a $2.1 million payout.
“All your children are at risk of being brutalized by the people that you have hired to protect you,” Bonner said, addressing the community.
The lawsuit accuses Syracuse officers Matthew Behuniak and David Cicerello, as well as several unnamed law enforcement agents working with the department. In the suit, the lawyers raise a Monell claim, which targets the policies and practices of the city and department. In this case, the lawyers argue these policies and practices enable law enforcement “to act with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of individuals.”
The lawsuit accuses the city of tolerating misconduct by its police, as well as encouraging it by not providing proper oversight and training.
“If you brutalize a child, you must pay. Every police officer needs to be on a warning. They need to be aware that: If you’ve hurt a child, we are coming after you,” Bonner said. “We’re going to take you to a jury, and a jury is going to find you guilty and make you pay.”
The plaintiffs are seeking $12 million from the city and demanding the city train its police officers on community policing tactics. Bonner said they are also suing each officer involved in the lawsuit for $3 million individually. He specified he would seek for the officers to pay out of their own money, rather than leave taxpayers to foot the bill.
Ryder blasted Syracuse Police Chief Joe Cecile, who during a public review of bodycam footage of the April 17 incident involving Anthony F. praised officers for finding a resolution to the conflict that did not result in an arrest or included handcuffing.
Ryder took issue with Cecile’s characterization of that police interaction as “community policing 101.”
“This is not community policing,” he said. “This further encourages these cops to go out and brutalize people by lying to them, and they’ll use every dollar that the taxpayers pay this city to defend these officers before they make any changes.”
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