Balto. Co. police lack child restraint policy Delegate calls cuffing of out-of-control boy an 'overreaction'

June 12, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Elise Armacost contributed to this article.

Baltimore County police have no rules governing how out-of-control youngsters should be restrained, a situation that some say may have pushed an officer over the line between protection and mistreatment -- and led to the handcuffing of a 6-year-old at school.

"It was overreaction," Del. Emmett C. Burns, a Baltimore County Democrat, said of the police response to the May 17 incident, in which an officer cuffed the wrists and ankles of Jerrell Murray at Woodmoor Elementary School.

"There must be a policy," said Burns, who has spoken with Jerrell's mother about the case. "Given the wrong set of circumstances, that could have escalated into something really ugly. Officers have to be more sensitive to their responsibilities than they were in this case."

Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan said he wouldn't second-guess an officer acting in an emergency, adding that "officers are paid to make judgments based on their training and the law, and this person did."

"It's even more important in a school, which we're trying to make as safe as possible for the other students and teachers," he said by telephone from Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was attending a meeting of police chiefs.

But Sheridan said the department would use the case to review its practices. "These things are always good in the sense that they make you look at your policies and make sure they're appropriate for this day and age, that we're still doing what we should be doing."

The debate surfaced after The Sun reported the incident in which Officer William Pumphrey, who was at Woodmoor Elementary on another matter, restrained the first-grader and took him to the hospital, where the boy was met by his grandmother.

Police say the child hit a teacher and head-butted an administrator -- and was hand-cuffed for his protection.

Jerrell's parents say the boy -- who has had repeated behavior problems at school -- is traumatized. They are working with a children's advocacy group to seek changes in his schooling.

The parents and a school board member say school administrators should have called for medical help. The parents say -- and school records indicate -- that administrators knew the boy was on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Normally, when paramedics arrive at scenes where adults are violent or in danger of hurting themselves, they call police to restrain them, said Joseph L. Brown, captain of the county's emergency medical service.

But typically when the patients are young children, paramedics handle the cases, he said. County ambulances are equipped with long wooden boards with straps that limit movement.

"Paramedics aren't the threatening type," Brown said. "People look at paramedics as being there to help you -- not that the police aren't, but we don't carry the handcuffs and the guns. You try to talk to the child and calm him."

The school system also has no policy dictating how administrators and teachers should handle children who are out of control, leaving it to staff members to decide whether to restrain children themselves or call police or an ambulance.

Jerrell's parents question the school's motives in allowing the police to take control of the boy. His father, Gary Murray, said the incident was the latest in a long-standing effort to oust his sons from county schools.

Twice, the Murrays say, Jerrell and his brother Jamoll, an eighth-grader at Woodlawn Middle School, were suspended when school officials decided they belong in city schools because their parents live in the city.

The Murrays -- who are divorced -- say their children live with their grandmother in the Woodmoor area during the week, because their mother works in Rockville and wants someone close to their schools during the day. Octavia Murray said she arranged for her mother, Daisy Glover, to have joint custody of the children, at the school system's insistence.

Principal Antoinette Lyles would not comment on the case, citing student confidentiality.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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