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Chicago Police Pointed Guns At And Traumatized Children in Botched Raids, Lawsuits Allege

Children as young as 4 years old are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result, the complaints say.

Image of Chicago Police officer
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Chicago police officers are traumatizing children by pointing guns at them and handcuffing their family members during raids on the wrong homes, a series of federal civil rights lawsuits alleges. According to the latest lawsuit, filed in July, three children—whose home police raided three times in five months, either without a search warrant or a warrant based on incorrect information—now experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The lawsuit follows several recent complaints filed against the city for its police officers’ use of excessive force against children during raids. The police department’s actions were part of its “unofficial policy of failing to protect young children from unnecessary uses of police force,” the lawsuits contend, citing government reports that have identified the same excessive force problem.

The Chicago Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuits, citing the pending litigation.

On Feb. 8, officers bashed down the door to Krystal Archie’s apartment on Chicago’s South Side to chase after two men who ran into her first-floor home from an upstairs apartment, according to the July complaint. Officers had a warrant to search the upstairs apartment, but not Archie’s. At the time officers arrived, Archie was at work and her 14-year-old daughter, Savannah was watching the children. 

After arresting the two men, police entered Savannah’s room and allegedly pointed an assault rifle at her, and guns at her 11-year-old sister, Telia. Their 7-year-old brother Jhaimarion was sitting on the ground playing with a tablet, according to the complaint. Officers allegedly refused to let Savannah call her mother, but she was eventually able to sneak in a call and Archie rushed home. After that, officers allegedly tossed the apartment for the next 30 minutes. 

Then on April 25, officers once again bashed down the door of Archie’s apartment, this time without announcing their presence, according to the complaint. Upon entering, officers allegedly shouted “search warrant” and “hands up … get the fuck down on the floor,” while pointing assault rifles at the three children and demanding they lay down on the floor. As Savannah lay on the floor of her room, an officer allegedly put his foot on her back and pointed his assault rifle at the back of her head and her face. According to the lawsuit, he started to handcuff her but only stopped when he found out her age. 

Officers also allegedly refused to show her the search warrant, which was for a man that no one in Archie’s family knew, the lawsuit says. The information for the warrant was based off a confidential informant who told officers that the man was selling drugs off the family’s back porch. 

Less than one month later, on May 17, officers broke down Archie’s back door without first knocking. Officers pointed pistols at her and a friend and ordered them to the ground, according to the complaint. While searching the apartment, police looked in the kitchen, which was stocked with supplies for her meal service business. “What does she cook, heroin?” one of the officers allegedly asked. The warrant police had obtained was based off surveillance of an alleged drug purchase three days earlier but Archie maintained the man had no affiliation with her home, and that he could have entered a different apartment in the building. 

Since the raids, the three children have become scared, nervous, and anxious, the complaint states. Savannah and Jhaimarion have trouble sleeping, while Telia struggles to focus at school, according to the lawsuit. All three have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The children’s symptoms are in line with those of other children who have experienced encounters with police. A 2010 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that one in four children in the child welfare system who witnessed a parent’s arrests were more likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

TJ Jackson, 4, and Samari Boswell, 7, witnessed approximately 20 officers storm their South Side apartment with their guns drawn during TJ’s birthday party in February. Afterwards, they began to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares about police and increased anger. That evening, they watched as police — who had obtained a warrant for the wrong address — handcuffed their father. Their mother, Stephanie Bures, filed a lawsuit against the city for its conduct in March.

Last year, the Chicago City Council awarded $2.5 million to the family of a girl who was diagnosed with what one psychiatrist called “one of the worst cases of child post-traumatic stress disorder” she had ever seen after officers pointed a gun at the girl during a botched raid when she was 3 years old.

All of these raids were carried out in the wrong homes. Al Hofeld Jr. — the attorney representing Archie, Bures and four other families in lawsuits against the city for use of excessive force — told The Appeal that it’s common for the department to make simple mistakes like failing to verify correct addresses, which can be done by searching police or other databases. “It’s sloppy negligent police work that’s behind these bad search warrants,” he told The Appeal. 

Hofeld added that the Chicago Police Department has a long history of using excessive force against children. Indeed, a 2017 U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the department found that 83 percent of excessive use-of-force incidents against children involved Black children while 14 percent involved Latinx children. Yet, Blacks, Latinxs, and whites each make up roughly one-third of Chicago’s population. In one instance, an officer pulled a 12-year-old Latinx boy off his bike—while his father was watching him—handcuffed him, and put him in a police car. The officer said he was responding to a report of “two male Hispanics” running from the area and told the boy he was “old enough to bang,” referring to participation in gang violence. 

A 2016 report by the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, a panel appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, concluded that the city’s children are “being mistreated by those who have sworn to protect and serve them.” 

In March, the police department announced it would start publicly publishing use-of-force data each month, require officers to document each time they draw their weapons, and change the way officers are investigated. None of these reforms, however, address use of force against children, the lawsuits allege. A spokesman for the department told The Appeal that when the department revised its use of force policy in 2017, “we made it clear to our officers that any use of force must be objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional.” The policy has specific rules governing the use of taser, pepper spray, and bean bag shotguns on children, but none for pistols or assault rifles. 

“For decades they’ve been pointing guns at children and pointing guns at their parents and their grandparents,” Hofeld said of Chicago police. “It’s developing low-grade mass traumatization of children, especially of children in black and brown communities.” 

Hofeld says he hopes the lawsuits will force the police department to implement reforms regarding how it deals with children and gathers information for raids. 

“I want to see fair compensation for the children and the families who have been traumatized by police officers’ excessive force,” he added. “We plan to keep hitting the city hard in these lawsuits. We’re not going to let up until the city changes its practices with kids.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the plaintiffs’ attorney. He is Al Hofeld, Jr., not Al Holfeld, Jr.