(CBS) — Just before they began to get ready for school on a Friday morning, 8-year-old Royal Smart, his siblings and his mother said they woke up to flashing lights and the sound of a bullhorn.
A swarm of heavily armed Chicago Police and SWAT officers surrounded their house, they said. They were there to execute a search warrant. It was just before 6 a.m. on March 15.
The family was terrified.
“They had their guns pointed at me and my children,” said Royal’s mother, Domonique. “I was very, very scared. Nervous.”
The Wilson family is one of many who have told CBS 2 Investigators that Chicago Police raided their homes and pointed guns at children.
At the time, the Wilson family didn’t know why police ordered them out of their home – in a single-file line with their hands up high. They did their best to obey every command.
“And [the officers said] ‘Walk, walk, walk toward the streets, keep up your hands,’” Domonique added. As she spoke, she and her children demonstrated how police ordered them to exit their home.
[If you believe police have wrongly entered your home, tell us about it here].
It got worse, they said. They saw police officers take out handcuffs.
First, Domonique was cuffed.
Then, police clasped cuffs around Royal’s wrists too.
“They made me stand up straight and hands just behind my back, and they had [the handcuffs] tight,” Royal said. “My mom and my brother told them, I’m a little kid, can you please take them off?”
The children, including Royal, his 9-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister, were crying. Domonique’s adult sons, their girlfriends and a grandchild were also there.
It was 37 degrees, windy and drizzling as the family stood outside in the street – Royal and his mom, with their hands behind their backs, remained handcuffed.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was just scared, my legs were shaking. I was worried about my sister most because she was only 6 years old. I thought that my family was going to get taken away from me.”
Domonique struggled to describe how much it pained her to watch her child in handcuffs. As her children cried, she said she tried to keep her composure for their sake.
“It took the breath out of me, the life out of me,” she said. “I had to be strong in front of my children. You have to be the leader to be strong to tell your children to just stand and be still while I’m being embarrassed, humiliated.”
While the family was outside, they said officers searched their home and tore apart their ceiling in search of illegal weapons and firearm paraphernalia. Nothing was found.
A confidential informant, listed only as “J. Doe” on the complaint for search warrant, claimed one of her adult sons who was visiting had guns in the home. “J. Doe” also told police he “interacted with” the individual “over the past year at [the Wilsons’] residence.”
But police didn’t find any guns, nor did they make an arrest.
Police also wrote in the warrant, obtained three days prior to the raid, that their background search showed the person was last known to be living at a different address.
The family said police left Royal in handcuffs for 30 minutes.
“And when they let go, I had a bruise on my arm,” he said, pointing to the area where police handcuffed him.
Domonique, her adult sons and their girlfriends, who also say they were handcuffed, were held outside for two hours, they said.
Chicago Police told CBS 2 it “makes every effort to ensure the validity and accuracy of all information used to apply for and execute search warrants.” They also said it is not protocol to handcuff children and that initially police did not know Royal’s age. Once they determined his age, they said they removed the handcuffs. You can read their full statement here.
For nearly a year, CBS 2 Investigators have uncovered an alarming pattern of police traumatizing children during wrong raids by screaming and swearing in their presence, pointing guns at them and handcuffing innocent parents and relatives in front of them.
During CBS 2’s mayoral debate in March, Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to CBS 2’s investigative findings and called for accountability within the police department.
“Obviously, the fact that police officers are breaking into the wrong homes – and we’ve seen across the country that can lead to deadly consequences – that frankly is totally unacceptable,” Lightfoot said. “And that’s something the superintendent [Eddie Johnson] has to own and take responsibility for.”
Attorney Al Hofeld Jr. plans to file a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the Wilson family. It will be his fifth case involving a raid by Chicago Police where families allege guns were pointed at children, traumatizing them.
“They just have a modus operandi where they come with excessive force from the very beginning. It’s a strategy,” Hofeld Jr. said of the police department. “Hopefully, we’re showing the public need for meaningful reform and re-training and new policy.”
CBS 2’s ongoing investigation into how wrong police raids affect children has led to proposed legislation. House Bill 51, proposed by Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-District 16), passed the Senate with a unanimous vote May 28 and is now headed to the House for a vote. It outlines steps officers would have to take when children are present during police activity to ensure they’re safe from harm, both physically and psychologically.
The proposed bill is called the Peter Mendez Act, named after a 9-year-old CBS 2 interviewed in August of 2018. He said Chicago Police officers pointed guns at him when they raided the wrong home. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident.
Domonique said her children are also dealing with emotional trauma after what happened to them.
“[Royal] wakes up every night crying, asking, ‘Why?’” Saying he can’t sleep, thinking they’re going to come back here. Saying he had dreams that they shot us.” —Domonique Wilson
Domonique also said no one from the city came back to fix the smashed drywall in her hallway and bedrooms.
“They violated my home,” she said. “They violated my constitutional rights. It’s not fair at all.”
But it’s the treatment of children in these cases, she said, that angers her the most.
“Nobody should get treated the way that me and my family and all these other families got treated,” Domonique said. “These are children that are being traumatized – being woken up out of their sleep to guns pointed at them, thinking that they’re about to get shot down.”
For months, CBS 2’s investigative unit has been asking the department for data on how often and where raids, including those that are executed at the wrong address or involve children, happen. But they have refused to turn over complete records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Supt. Johnson has also declined CBS 2’s repeated requests for an interview.