A federal judge this week rules in favor of the city of Key West and its police officers in a case involving the arrest of a child. CONTRIBUTED

A federal judge this week ruled in favor of the city of Key West and three of its police officers in a lawsuit involving the arrest and attempted handcuffing of an 8-year-old student who hit a teacher at school in December 2018.

Nearly two years after the incident, in August 2020, the boy’s mother, Bianca Di Gennaro — daughter of former county commissioner Mario Di Gennaro — hired celebrity attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel Devon Jacob to sue the school district, three Gerald Adams Elementary School employees, the city of Key West and three police officers.

Crump has represented the families of George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer, and Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery, who were victims of racially motivated murders. 

Di Gennaro’s lawsuit claims the boy’s arrest and the defendants’ actions in trying to handcuff him, violated the child’s constitutional rights, caused him psychological distress and warranted financial “compensatory damages, including, but not limited to, the monetary value associated with….violations of legal rights, emotional distress, emotional injury, loss of liberty, embarrassment, and loss of reputation; punitive damages as permitted by law; attorney’s fees and costs… and other financial or equitable relief that the court deems reasonable and just.” The suit also asked for an apology and an admission by the defendants.

The Key West case drew national media — and social media — attention and outrage when Crump circulated a police body-cam video of a Key West police officer trying to place handcuffs on the child whose small wrists rendered them useless.

But on Monday, June 14, Judge Moore wrote in his order, “…the Court cannot overlook the fact that—as depicted in the arrest video— [a police officer] merely attempted to handcuff [the boy] for less than 30 seconds, causing no physical pain or injury. [The officer] then abandoned the effort and escorted [the boy] unrestrained. The officers explained to the boy why they were arresting him, speaking to him calmly and explaining the severity of his actions. [The boy] then climbed into the back of the police vehicle and buckled his seatbelt. [The officer] tied [the boy’s] shoe….While [the child] was visibly upset during the incident, the attempted handcuffing can hardly stand to serve as the sole or primary basis for any emotional injury he suffered as a result of the events that transpired that day.”

A still shot taken from a police body-cam video shows the 2018 arrest of an 8-year-old child who struck a teacher at school. The child’s father requested the arrest in an effort to teach a lesson. Two years later, the boy’s mother sued police and the school district, but a judge this week ruled against her and said the boy’s rights were not violated. CITY OF KEY WEST/Contributed

Judge Moore continued: “…The court does not find that defendants violated [the child’s] constitutional rights…the officer here attempted for a moment to place the handcuffs on [the child], causing no pain, and then ultimately escorted him to the police car unrestrained. Further, these actions were taken in the context of a juvenile who had a history of displaying anger issues and authority defiance, and whose behavioral problems were particularly pronounced throughout the week prior to his arrest for felony battery….The clerk of court is instructed to close this case. All pending motions, if any, are denied as moot.”

The judge had previously dismissed the case against the school district and its employees in a March ruling. 

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“It’s too bad this case was even initiated,” Key West city commissioner Sam Kaufman, who is also an attorney, told Keys Weekly upon learning of the judge’s ruling.

The plaintiff’s father, former county commissioner Mario Di Gennaro, told the Keys Weekly on Thursday, “I don’t really know what to say. I don’t have all the facts of the case, but I do know that judges, police officers and teachers have tough jobs, so I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t know whether my daughter plans to appeal or anything like that.”

 

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.