GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids’ police chief says it was “inappropriate” for some of his officers to hold an 11-year-old girl at gunpoint and handcuff her outside her home while searching for an attempted murder suspect.
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Chief David Rahinsky said hearing the girl’s screams on bodycam video made him “physically nauseous” and that the situation was “a discredit to the way the community is being served.”
The incident involving 11-year-old Honestie Hodges, happened Dec. 6 on the city’s northwest side as police were searching for Honestie’s aunt, who was wanted for allegedly stabbing her younger sister a few blocks away. Honestie’s aunt, Carrie Manning, is a 40-year-old white woman.
Bodycam video played during the news conference shows officers searching for Manning confront Honestie, who was leaving her home to walk to the store. The officers can be seen telling her to walk backward with her hands up and then handcuffing her, patting her down and putting her in the back of a police cruiser as she screamed wildly.
“The screams of the 11-year-old, they go to your heart,” Rahinsky said after a portion of the video was shown. “You hear the mother yelling from the steps, ‘That’s my child!’ That’s our community’s child. That’s someone who lives in Grand Rapids. That’s someone who should feel safe running to an officer.”
App users: See the raw bodycam video
When asked to describe his immediate reaction to seeing the video, Rahinksy said it was “literally physical” and hearing Honestie’s screams made his stomach turn.
“To say anything less than that would be insincere,” he added.
CHIEF: “WE DO HAVE A PROBLEM”
Rahinsky said while he recognizes what’s it’s like in the heat of the moment and dealing with the unknown as a police officer, he could see the disconnect in how Honestie, as an 11-year-old, was treated.
“The juvenile is treated the same way you would have treated any adult,” he said. “And when you’re dealing with an 11-year-old, it’s inappropriate. So, as an agency, we’re going to have some tough conversations that include the community. It goes to the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish with (consulting firm) 21st Century Policing.”
News app users: Watch the news conference with Rahinsky. Warning: The video includes some profanity.
Rahinsky said the incident, which is under internal investigation, means GRPD has work to do.
“We need to look at everything, from our hiring to our training to our supervision,” he said. “What we’re going to look at is when is it appropriate for discretion to override practice and protocol in dealing with an 11-year-old.”
The chief added that the department was being “very introspective” in the wake of the incident.
“If an officer can point to policy, or can point to training, or point to hiring and say, ‘This is what I was told, this is how I was taught, this is consistent with practice,’ then we’ve got a problem,” he said. “And what I just said is accurate. We do have a problem.”
Honestie’s family met with the chief Tuesday afternoon, along with Cle Jackson, the president of the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP. Jackson told 24 Hour News 8 after that meeting that the family was withholding judgment on the department’s response to the bodycam video until the internal investigation is complete.
RESIDENTS DEMAND CHANGE
At a Tuesday night city commission meeting, outraged residents expressed a lack of trust in GRPD and questioned whether it could be restored. Fed up with what they said was the mistreatment of minorities, they demanded the city do something to prevent similar incidents.
Public comment started with Honestie’s grandmother, Alisa Niemeyer. She said there is no repairing Honestie’s faith in police.
“I’m speaking this evening because we must repair relationships between our community and the Grand Rapids Police Department, she said. “Unfortunately, my granddaughter has lost her innocence because of this incident and that is unacceptable.”
A long line of commenters agreed with her.
“Why are black children not black children? Why are they just others? ‘Cause they’re getting treated like animals,” resident LaDonna Norman said.
GRPD’s relationship with minority communities has taken at least two other hits this year. There was a public uproar after a March incident in which five black children were held at gunpoint by officers after GRPD got a report of an armed teen — though none of the kids had a weapon. And in April, a study found black drivers were more than twice as likely to be pulled over by GRPD as other drivers.
At a roundtable conversation before the meeting, several community pastors said they are disgusted by what happened to Honestie. They said problems with police relations start with training.
“This falls into the hiring mechanism, this falls into cultural competency training and these are the core issues that … first we were compassionately talking about it, then we were more vocal. Now, we’re downright enraged about it,” Senior Pastor Jerry Bishop of Lifequest Ministries said.
Responding to the public criticism, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss agreed the situation was painful.
“No child in our community experience that. None,” she said. “And we have a lot of work to do.”
When asked after the meeting if she thinks the officers involved should be fired, Bliss said she couldn’t comment on that until GRPD’s internal investigation is complete.