If Chicago police are to be believed, they simply don’t know what a black 8-year-old boy looks like.
That’s the defense the department is giving for why it handcuffed a child during an early morning raid by Chicago Police Department and SWAT on a family home on March 15. The raid—one of several local news station CBS 2 Chicago has investigated over the last year—left 8-year-old Royal Wilson traumatized, his family says, and is the center of a new lawsuit, to be filed Thursday morning against the Chicago PD.
The incident began before 6 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the Wilson family were startled by flashing lights and a police bullhorn commanding them to go outside their South Side home, single file, with their hands up.
The Wilsons said they did their best to comply with the orders of the police and SWAT team, who had come by to raid their home off a tip from an anonymous source claiming the Wilsons had guns in their house.
Still, police saw fit to handcuff Domonique Wilson and her sons, including Royal Wilson, and held them out on the street—where it was cold, windy, and drizzling—as police conducted a raid that turned up nothing.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was just scared, my legs were shaking,” Royal told CBS 2 Chicago. “I was worried about my sister most because she was only six years old. I thought that my family was going to get taken away from me.”
As Royal, his 9-year-old brother and his 6-year-old sister began crying, their mother, Domonique tried to reassure her children and keep her composure, asking police if they could take the handcuffs off her young son.
“It took the breath out of me, the life out of me,” she said. “I had to be strong in front of my children. You have to be the leader to be strong to tell your children to just stand and be still while I’m being embarrassed, humiliated,” she said.
According to the family, police took the handcuffs off Royal after 30 minutes, long enough for the restraints to leave bruises on his arm. Domonique Wilson, her adult sons, and their girlfriends all remained handcuffed and detained outside their home for two hours, they say.
Responding to CBS 2 Chicago’s report last week, Chicago police issued a statement saying officers were responding to information that an assault rifle was being kept at the Wilson’s home. Police also told the local news station that Royal was handcuffed because police didn’t know the boy’s age.
“Once they determined his age, [police] said they removed the handcuffs,” writes CBS 2 Chicago.
But the incident has stayed with the family for the last few months. Smashed drywall in her hallway and bedrooms remain unfixed—one photo from inside the Wilson’s home shows a gaping hole in a hallway ceiling—and Royal still has nightmares about the event.
“[Royal] wakes up every night crying, asking, ‘Why?’” Saying he can’t sleep, thinking they’re going to come back here. Saying he had dreams that they shot us,d” Domonique said.
“They violated my home,” she said. “They violated my constitutional rights. It’s not fair at all.”
Attorney Al Hofeld Jr. filed a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of the Wilson family on Wednesday—his fifth such suit against the Chicago PD to date.
“There is a silent epidemic of trauma being perpetrated upon the children and families of the South and West Sides of our city by Chicago police barreling into the wrong homes, handcuffing innocent adults, holding guns on children, handcuffing children, trashing their homes, refusing to show warrants, and screaming dehumanizing commands,” Hofeld said in a press release shared with The Root.
He noted that currently, the police department has “no training or policy” addressing how officers should treat children during these events, and no understanding or acknowledgment of the ways these violent, shocking raids can impact them.
“These cases get little attention because most of the injuries—which are profound and psychological—are invisible,” he added, “and because these police raids on the wrong homes are so pervasive in these communities they are, shamefully, accepted as inevitable.”