A mother is now suing Key West police as body camera footage emerged showing her then 8-year-old son getting handcuffed by officers at school back in 2018.
Bianca Digennaro filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, alleging officers used excessive force and violated the boy’s rights to equal protection. The footage from December 2018 was recently posted on Twitter by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
"My son has a disability and the authorities tried to make him a criminal, only being 8 years old," Digennaro said.
The boy was charged with felony battery after police said in an incident report that he punched a teacher. The incident began in the lunch room when the child wouldn't sit properly and the teacher asked him several times and he refused, then he punched her in the chest and cursed at her, the report said.
In the video, officers made the boy stand against a cabinet and begin to frisk him before placing him in handcuffs. One officer tells him he's going to jail.
Digennaro and her attorneys say none of this had to happen — that a behavior plan was in place with the school, but the teachers and police didn’t follow it. She was having a medical procedure done the day it happened.
“I wasn’t there to protect my son from getting arrested, going to an adult jail, being fingerprinted, having his mouth swabbed for DNA, and having been taken a mugshot. My 8-year-old son has a mugshot out there,” Digennaro said.
The state attorney ended up dropping the battery charge.
“I refuse to let them make him a convicted felon at the age of 8," Digennaro said. "I had to fight for a long time to get these charges dropped and I need to protect him and want to protect him now and anybody else that’s out there that this doesn’t happen to them."
Crump said in the tweet that the officers used "scared straight" tactics on the boy.
“A special needs kid has a mental illness crisis at a school, and they feel it is appropriate to arrest, charge, and have him become a convicted felon at 8 years old,” he said.
The mother said that her son is now 10 years old and is doing better as they have worked to overcome the trauma she says being arrested caused.
Both the school board in Monroe County and the Key West Police Department said Tuesday afternoon that they don’t comment on pending litigation.