The family of a 7-year-old Bronx boy on Monday filed a $250 million claim against police after saying he was handcuffed and falsely accused of stealing $5 from another student after school, according to media reports yesterday.
An unidentified policeman speaking to the Daily News said they had to handcuff Wilson Reyes to prevent them from “having an escaped prisoner on our hands.”
Wilson’s mother, Frances Mendez, told the New York Post that her son was interrogated for 10 hours on Dec. 4, not even breaking to be allowed to see her.
“Imagine how I felt seeing my son in handcuffs,” she said. “It was horrible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
An NYPD source familiar with the incident said that Wilson had been bullying the other student for some time, prompting the victim’s mother to call for a meeting with teachers and Mendez.
“This kid is no angel, even though he may look like it,” the source said. “We made the arrest based on the complainant aggressively complaining about what the defendant did to him. This wasn’t something where one kid runs off with another kid’s basketball. This 7-year-old attacked someone and took his money. There’s a little more to this story than it appears.”
But Jack Yankowitz, the family’s attorney who filed the huge claim against the New York Police Department and the city with the city comptroller’s office, said that bullying does not excuse the police’s actions. He said that Wilson was handcuffed and held in a room at the Bronx public school for four hours, then taken to a precinct house. He allegedly was held there for another six hours and charged with robbery.
“It’s unfathomable, what the police did. The whole thing sounds so stupid,” Yankowitz said. “They were interrogating him like he was a hardened criminal.”
Inspector Kim Royster, an NYPD spokeswoman, called the story “grossly untrue in many respects, including fabrication as to how long the child was held in the precinct which was less than half of the time mentioned.”
An NYPD source told the Post that “the kid came into the precinct a little bit after 3 p.m., and he was out by 7:45 p.m. … That’s standard for a juvenile arrest.”
The bizarre tale happened two months ago, when $5 fell out of the pocket of a different student after school hours and off school grounds. The money, which was supposed to be used for a school trip that never happened, fell on the ground in front of Wilson and two other boys, and one of them bent down and picked it up.
The boy accused Wilson of pinching the money and a scuffle erupted. Officers showed up and handcuffed Wilson, taking him to a room in the school. They then hauled him off to the 44th precinct station house for another six hours of interrogation and verbal abuse, according to the suit.
“Reyes was handcuffed and verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed,” the documents say. He was then charged with robbery.
Mendez said that when she went to the station house, police officials initially told her that she could not see her son. When she was finally allowed to see the boy, she found him seated in a chair with his left wrist cuffed to the wall.
Mendez quickly snapped a photo and started crying.
“My son was crying, ‘Mommy, it wasn’t me! Mommy, it wasn’t me!’” Mendez said. “I never imagined the cops could do that to a child. We’re traumatized.”
About three weeks later, a different boy said that he had taken the money and all charges against Wilson were dropped. But his family is furious at police behavior, calling it a pattern of treating children like adults instead of solving matters with a simple talk with the principal.
A police source even suggested that they were required to chain the 7-year-old.
“If we didn’t handcuff him and he ran out the front door,” the source said, “then we would have had an escaped prisoner on our hands.”