Detroit— The recent arrest and alleged treatment of an 11-year-old asthmatic burglary suspect has angered relatives, who are considering legal action.
The incident happened Sunday, when Taiye Nelson was arrested after another youth told police he helped him break into a west side home and steal an Xbox video game system.
Oak Park attorney Karri Mitchell, who represents the boy’s family, said Taiye should not have been taken into police custody. But Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said the arresting officers followed proper procedure.
“The homeowner came home and saw two kids running out of his house,” Woody said. “He knows one of the kids, so he called police. Officers went to the kid’s house and asked him, ‘Did you break into a house and steal an Xbox?’”
The boy admitted to the theft and returned the gaming system, Woody said. “He named the other kid (Taiye) as an accomplice, which is probable cause to make an arrest.”
Mitchell disagreed. “That’s hearsay, not probable cause,” he said. “They can arrest the kid who admitted to doing it, but should have done more investigation before hauling (Taiye) off in handcuffs. The mother was trying to explain to the officers that her son was in bed at 3:30 in the morning (when the break-in occurred).”
Curt Benson, a professor at Cooley School of Law, said a suspect naming an alleged accomplice is probable cause for an arrest.
“If the homeowner knew the one boy, and that boy admits to robbing the house and says another kid helped him, that’s more than enough probable cause for an arrest,” Benson said. “Whether that’s enough to convict him is another matter altogether.”
Krystal Williams, Taiye’s mother, said in a written statement that her son was scheduled to go camping this week as a reward for a good report card. She called the incident a “nightmare.”
“When I told the police they could neither talk to my son nor arrest him, claiming my custodial rights, they grabbed him and put him in handcuffs against my protest,” she said.
Woody said Detroit police officers are required to frisk and handcuff suspects who are being arrested. “The officers were just following proper procedure,” he said. “They followed the letter of the law.”
A complaint will be filed with the Office of the Chief Investigator, which looks into allegations of officer abuse, said Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.
“The way the officers talked to the mother was completely disrespectful,” Scott said. “They were verbally abusive to her.”
Taiye was taken to the 6th Precinct, where, according to Mitchell, the boy’s mother informed police that her son had asthma. The officers told her, “he’ll be OK,” Mitchell said.
“When they took him to the precinct, he was hyperventilating,” Mitchell said.
Woody said officers told Williams her son would be OK because they planned to take care of any medical issues that came up.
“They did say, ‘He’ll be OK,’ but that’s because the officers would have taken care of any of his medical needs,” Woody said. “If there was any medication needed, he’d have been taken to a doctor, who would’ve ensured he was provided whatever he needed.”
Taiye was later moved to the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center, where Mitchell said he was harassed by other inmates.
“He was almost sexually assaulted, and they had to move him three times,” Mitchell said.
After about 24 hours, Taiye was released.
“There was no evidence to substantiate the claims,” Williams said.
Mitchell, who has scheduled a press conference at his Oak Park office Wednesday, would not say whether the family plans to file a lawsuit.
“You can’t sue the city because of the bankruptcy anyway,” he said, referring to the fact that lawsuits have been placed on hold while Detroit works through Chapter 9 proceedings.