Bronx school and precinct officials involved in the arrest and handcuffing of a seven-year-old boy have stopped talking about the case in the wake of a threat by his parents of a multi-million dollar lawsuit and community protests.
“We are under instructions from the chancellor not to talk to any reporters,” said school principal Olivia Francis-Webber on Tuesday. She heads P.S. 114, on Cromwell Avenue where the boy attended school.
News reports that broke at the end of January said that Wilson Reyes, 7, was arrested for an incident that occurred in early December when he allegedly bullied, punched in the face and robbed nine-year-old Seth Acevedo of $5 outside of the school grounds. Wilson was arrested for robbery and detained at the school for several hours before he was brought to the 44th Precinct where he was handcuffed to a wall for more than four more hours, news outlets added.
When his mother, Frances Mendez saw what happened to her son, she took a photo and contacted a lawyer, Jack Yankowitz, who helped her file a $250 million claim against the city and the New York Police Department.
Some reports later said that the city Law Department dropped the robbery charge against Wilson on Dec. 26 and that another classmate admitted the theft but these reports went unconfirmed.
Public outcry and a rally took place last Friday, when the Bronx clergy and family members organized a silent march. They walked with picket signs from the elementary school to the nearby 44th Precinct at E. 169th St., to protest against the increasing criminalization of minority children in poor communities.
Officers in the precinct declined to comment because the case is under investigation, referring all questions to the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information.
Leroy Williams, 39, was waiting outside the school to pick up his children, 5 and 7. He’s an African-American man with a slight build, wearing a black knit hat, hooded jacket and blue jeans. His hands were in his pockets to fight off the cold. He heard about Reyes on the news.
“They need to put them in a room and call their parents or something, but putting cuffs on a seven-year-old, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “That could have been my kid. She’s seven years old — that could have been her. “ He pointed to his daughter.
Williams said that his son was bullied too “I went up to the school, talked to the principal, and it stopped,” he said. “They never started nothing no more.”
Williams said he was constantly harassed on the street by the police. “I come home from work and I have my hoody on, and they stop and frisk me because they think everyone is alike,” he complained, saying that he was stopped at least three times. “They’re stereotyping me.”
He added that there were a lot of teenagers in the neighborhood carrying guns and doing whatever they wanted to do. “They’re not messing with these teenagers – they’re messing with these little kids and these adults,” Williams said in disgust.
“There was a school meeting last week,” said Carmen Esquea who was picking up her six-year-old son from school. “A lot of parents came and filled up at least half of the auditorium because they wanted to know what was going on, but the school only talked about how to handle conflict and how children should behave if they are bullied.” Another father who was rushing by with his son and did not have time to stop commented, “They had a meeting to cover their asses. That’s all I know.”
The attorney Yankowitz, was unavailable to answer calls, but according to criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, Ron Kuby, “The family had a choice to either file a notice of claim within 90 days of the incident or file a federal civil rights action in federal or state court.”