A bystander video that shows Syracuse, New York, police detaining a sobbing 8-year-old boy has prompted an internal investigation, officials said.
The video, which had garnered 5.5 million views Wednesday evening, shows an officer restraining the boy by both arms from behind while the child is crying.
NBC News does not know what occurred before a bystander began recording.
The one-minute clip begins with a man off-camera asking the officer holding the boy what police are doing before he comments that the child “looks like a baby to me.”
Another officer appears and tells the man: “He’s stealing stuff. If he breaks into your house and steals something —” His voice then becomes inaudible.
“Y’all treat him like a hard-core, blooded f------ killer,” the man replies.
The officer says: “Keep walking, dude. You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
The camera then pans to a police vehicle where the boy was placed.
A second voice can be heard.
“That’s crazy,” the person says. “How old is he? 10 years old?”
Syracuse police said in a statement Tuesday that the child was never placed in handcuffs and that body camera video was being reviewed.
“We (SPD) are aware of a video being shared on social media involving several of our Officers and juveniles accused of stealing from a store on the City’s northside. The incident, including the Officers’ actions and body-worn cameras, are being reviewed,” the statement said. “There is some misinformation involving this case. The juvenile suspected of larceny was not placed in handcuffs. He was placed in the rear of a patrol unit where he was directly brought home. Officers met with the child’s father and no charges were filed.”
Syracuse police did not respond to a request for additional comment, including about when the incident occurred. Instead, a department representative provided a statement from Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh.
Walsh said what occurred demonstrates the continued need to support children and families while investing in alternative responses “to assist our officers.”
“When the online video was first shared with me on Monday, I was concerned. I asked Chief Buckner and the SPD to review all body worn camera footage, which is ongoing,” the mayor said, referring to Police Chief Kenton Buckner.
“Officers were responding to a call for a larceny that had just occurred at a nearby business. Based on what I have seen, the body camera footage demonstrates no handcuffs were used by officers at any time. The child was placed in the back of a patrol car and taken home to his family. The officer knew the child from prior interactions and explained to him that he was being taken home. The officers returned the child to his family and discussed the incident with his father before leaving without filing any charges.”
NBC affiliate WSTM of Syracuse reported the boy in the video is 8 years old. The station also spoke to the bystander who said he shot the video.
“I felt his terror and decided to intervene,” said the bystander, Kenneth Jackson. Police did not handle the matter correctly, he said.
“There’s a way that the police need to interact with kids, and what they did that day was completely unacceptable,” he said.
Syracuse police did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment about whether they have policies about interacting with juvenile suspects.
Michael Sisitzky, the senior policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Wednesday that police unnecessarily traumatized a child.
“No child should ever experience abuse at the hands of law enforcement. There is no justification for the Syracuse police to traumatize an 8-year-old,” Sisitzky said.
"Spinning concern about petty crimes into fears about public safety is irresponsible and reckless, causes a lifetime of harm to Black and Brown children, and is straight out of a broken playbook. The City of Syracuse must investigate this incident immediately and hold these officers accountable for any wrongdoing.”
But David Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University who worked 20 years as a police officer in Michigan and Florida, said Syracuse police handled the matter by the book.
Thomas, who is Black, said it would be nearly impossible for police to detain a child that young without the minor ending up in tears.
“I’m not troubled by it, because I know what the end result was. If you told me, 'At 8 years old, they cuffed him and took him to jail,' I would have an issue with it. But to take him to his parent, or his dad, I have no problem with that.”
Thomas said that when they are dealing with juveniles, officers can counsel suspects and release them at the scene, take the suspects to the station and release them to parents without filing charges or opt to file charges and release the suspects to their legal custodians at the station.
In the most serious cases, officers can file charges and take the suspects to juvenile detention.
Some minority communities are hesitant about their interactions with police, Thomas said. In the current climate in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests — along with more recent incidents like this month’s fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya by an officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan — how police interact with certain communities is under heavy public scrutiny, he said.
“It stays fresh in their brains, and everyone thinks that even when police are doing the right thing, they want to look at them and say what they’re doing is wrong," Thomas said.