By Dave Savini, Samah Assad, Michele Youngerman
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Police Department finally released body camera video recorded seven months ago showing what happened when police handcuffed an 8-year-old during a bad raid.
The video was released a day after CBS 2 reported how the police department initially denied the family’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The family wanted the footage to show how officers handled the raid and treated them.
On March 15 Domonique Wilson watched police handcuff her son Royal, a third grader, after SWAT officers ordered them out of their home at gunpoint.
“It took the breath out of me, the life out of me,” Domonique said.
Police denied CBS 2’s FOIA request for the same video in June, citing privacy exemptions. In a denial letter sent to the family regarding their request in July, the department wrote it would be “unduly burdensome” for police to collect, review and redact 16 hours of video.
“It’s burdensome because it’s something to hide, and because it’s something [police] don’t want to be exposed,” Domonique said. “I have every right to see those videos.”
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CBS 2 reviewed 14 video clips that contain approximately 16 hours’ worth of body camera video in an effort to piece together what happened the morning officers executed a search warrant at the Wilsons’ home.
Many of the videos, which include 10 different officers’ cameras, mirror much of the , family’s original account of what happened.
Videos involving direct interaction with the family begin with officers surrounding them in the middle of the street. Royal, Domonique and other adult family members can be seen with their hands already behind their backs, handcuffed. There are other children on the scene who are not handcuffed.
“I was just scared. My legs were shaking,” Royal said in May. “They made me stand up straight and hands just behind my back, and they had [the handcuffs] tight. My mom…told them, I’m a little kid, can you please take them off?”
Royal is one of 23 children CBS 2 found, who say they were traumatized by Chicago Police officers raiding the wrong homes, or homes based on bad information. The troubling pattern, including officers’ failure to verify information from confidential informants, and allegations of guns being pointed at children, were the subject of a CBS2 documentary, [un]warranted. It examined the gripping toll wrong raids have on the lives of innocent families and children in Chicago, and how it contributes to community distrust in police.
WATCH: Dave Savini Reports On His Wrong Raids Investigation On The CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell
WATCH the full documentary “[un]warranted,” with CBS 2’s Dave Savini.
In the video, Domonique and an adult relative are repeatedly heard questioning why officers would handcuff an 8-year-old, and asking them to remove the handcuffs.
“Can you take these handcuffs off? Because his hands hurt,” Domonique said, as she can also be seen with her hands cuffed behind her back.
“Why is he in handcuffs? Ain’t nobody else in handcuffs but grown-ups,” an adult relative said. “That’s a kid. That ain’t cool, man. That ain’t good for him. He’s a kid, 8 years old. He’s already experiencing something that ain’t right for him, for his eyes.”
Throughout the video, CBS 2 counted 40 responding officers including SWAT on the scene. Officers scoured each room in the home and tossed the family’s belongings in search of the guns listed on the search warrant. They also busted open the ceiling and climbed up to search.
At one point in the videos, officers on the street can be heard talking about the tactics the SWAT team used. The officers joked about SWAT’s use of a flashbang grenade, a non-lethal explosive device used by law enforcement to disorient people.
“Was that a flashbang grenade?” One officer asked.
“Yeah,” another answered. “It was necessary, man. It was necessary.”
“The scene is safe,” the other replied. The first officer laughed.
An officer also commented on SWAT’s decision to march the family out to the street with children.
“They f****** came out and they’re like, ‘There’s a search warrant on your house, come out.’ And I’m like, that’s like the worst way to do this.” An officer laughed.
As part of the same conversation, a different officer asked, “Did they know like all the kids [inaudible] were in there?” To which an officer replied, “No, not that many. I think they were like five or six kids.”
Police records show the search warrant was executed at 6:03 a.m. The body camera footage reveals Royal was questioned and held in handcuffs until 6:35 a.m. That’s when officers removed the handcuffs.
But what the videos don’t show raises more questions.
The video the police department released doesn’t include the first 20 minutes of the raid when the Wilson family said they were ordered out of their home gunpoint. It also doesn’t show when Royal was first handcuffed.
“They’re hiding that they put rifles to me and my children’s heads,” Domonique said. “Aimed rifles at us.”
This isn’t the first time Chicago Police officers’ body worn camera video has been missing from a bad raid. Peter Mendez, 11, said officers pointed guns at him and his little brother Jack when police wrongly raided their home in 2017. But some body camera video from that raid is missing too.
CBS 2 found this could be in part because, unlike other major police departments, Chicago does not require SWAT officers to wear body cameras. In addition, other officers have been found to have not pressed record, or turned their cameras on too late. An investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General found lieutenants failing to review body camera footage to ensure compliance of the department’s policy.
As a result of CBS 2’s year-long reporting into wrong raids, Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson has launched an audit into how officers obtain and execute search warrants.
He said officers handcuffing an 8-year-old is “an extraordinary event that should happen in the most extreme circumstances.”
“And that would require a hell of a lot of justification,” Ferguson said, adding police should determine the probability of children being in the home as part of their pre-raid planning.
In a past statement to CBS 2, police said it is not protocol to handcuff children and they did not know Royal’s age when they handcuffed him. Superintendent Eddie Johnson has denied more than a dozen requests for interviews to discuss wrong raids.
However, Johnson publicly acknowledged the problem at an Oct. 15 news conference.
“When we do these search warrants, there is nothing more important than the trust the community has,” he said. “So accidental or erroneous search warrants are, you know, unacceptable.”
In the raid at the Wilsons’ home, police executed a search warrant based on information from an informant listed only as “John Doe” in the complaint for search warrant, who told them he saw illegal guns in the home. The target listed on the warrant didn’t live at the address, but was visiting the home at the time of the raid. Officers didn’t find any guns or anything illegal, nor did they arrest anyone.
The family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in May – one of 10 lawsuits CBS 2 reported on related to bad raids accusing Chicago Police officers of traumatizing innocent families and children.
Royal said he still has nightmares after he was handcuffed.
“They did something very wrong that they have to be held accountable for,” Domonique said.