Crime

Lawyer alleges race played a role in case of child urinating in public

A 10-year-old Black child must serve three months' probation for urinating behind a car while he was waiting for his mom who was in a meeting.

Senatobia Police vehicle outside a Mississippi police department.
Senatobia Police vehicle outside a Mississippi police department.
The Tate Record via AP
SMS

A 10-year-old Black child who urinated in a parking lot must serve three months’ probation and write a two-page book report on the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, a Mississippi judge has ordered.

Tate County Youth Court Judge Rusty Harlow handed down the sentence Tuesday after the child's lawyer reached an agreement with a special prosecutor. The prosecution threatened to upgrade the charge of “child in need of supervision” to a more serious charge of disorderly conduct if the boy's family took the case to trial, said Carlos Moore, the child’s attorney.

“I thought any sensible judge would dismiss the charge completely. It’s just asinine," Moore said. "There were failures in the criminal justice system all the way around.”

Moore said he doesn’t believe a White child would have been arrested under similar circumstances, and he couldn't find a similar instance of a child receiving a similar sentence for the same offense.

“I don’t think there is a male in America who has not discreetly urinated in public,” Moore said.

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The child’s mother has said her son urinated behind her vehicle while she was visiting a lawyer’s office in Senatobia, Mississippi, on Aug. 10. Police officers in the town of about 8,100 residents, 40 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee, saw the child urinating and arrested him. Officers put him in a squad car and took him to the police station. Senatobia Police Chief Richard Chandler said the child was not handcuffed, but his mother said he was put in a jail cell, according to NBCNews.com.

Days after the episode, Chandler said the officers violated their training on how to deal with children. He said one of the officers who took part in the arrest was “no longer employed,” and other officers would be disciplined. He didn’t specify whether the former officer was fired or quit, or what type of discipline the others would face.

Chandler did not immediately respond to a voicemail message Thursday. Reached by phone, a staffer for Paige Williams, the Tate County Youth Court prosecutor appointed to handle the case, said the attorney could not comment on cases involving juveniles.

Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights organization Color Of Change, said the decision to charge the child didn’t make sense.

“Nothing about this case from the decisions by the police, the prosecutor, and the judge makes us safer or is a good use of taxpayer resources," Robinson said in a statement.

He said there is a “long and unforgivable history in Mississippi and across the country” of a “two-tiered justice system” that offers one path for Black children and another for White.

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It was initially unclear whether prosecutors would take up the case. Moore requested a dismissal, but prosecutors declined. He planned on going to trial but shifted strategy after prosecutors threatened to upgrade the charges. The child's family chose to accept the probation sentence because it would not appear on the boy's criminal record. The 10-year-old is required to check in with a probation officer once per month.

Williams initially wanted the child to write a report on public decency, but the judge changed the subject to Bryant because the boy is a basketball fan, Moore said.

Marie Ndiaye, deputy director of the Justice Project at the Advancement Project, a racial justice organization, said the arrest is emblematic of broader issues in the criminal justice system.

“Sentencing anyone, let alone a young child, to probation under these facts is sure to add to the trauma and denigration this child has suffered since their arrest,” Ndiaye said. “This is all the more proof that we need to severely limit police interactions with civilians, from petty retail theft to traffic stops and even so-called ‘quality of life’ offenses. For Black people in America, it is a matter of life and death.”