The Metro Nashville Community Oversight committee is investigating the arrest of two children Sunday following video of the incident posted on social media. Videos show multiple police officers gathered as one officer pushed a 13-year-old Black child against a car and searched him.
According to Angel Stansberry, co-president of activist organization People’s Plaza, two Vanderbilt University students took the videos and circulated them online. Stansberry says the students wish not to be identified, and started recording the arrest on West End Avenue because they were concerned by the way officers were treating the minor. The videos show Metro Nashville Police Department Officer William Hamblen explaining he would not read the teen Miranda rights because he was not being questioned. Someone behind the camera said they were concerned about rough treatment of the teen and expressed desire for the minor’s safety.
“We’re concerned about this child,” one witness said to Hamblen in the video. “He didn’t look like he was being treated very well and you haven’t said anything to him about his rights.”
Hamblen responded he was concerned too, saying that was why he put the child under arrest. Another video taken from farther away shows Officer Hamblen with the teen pushed against a police car checking the juvenile’s pants and searching his pockets. Hamblen turned to look at the camera several times during filming and during the first video he displayed his badge and gave his name to witnesses. Later, three other officers joined Hamblen and one also searched the child.
During the arrest, Hamblen told witnesses another child who appeared to be 7 or 8 years old was also under arrest, but Metro Police Department later said in a statement the other child was also 13 years old. The email statement says officers noticed at least three youths soliciting money for a sports team, and that all three fled the scene when approached. One of the teens stopped when asked, and was detained without handcuffs, according to the statement, and another hid behind a car in the Mellow Mushroom parking lot. Officer Hamblen detained that minor with handcuffs.
MNPD says over the last 12 months they have received about 30 calls about the same teens soliciting money for a sports team. The statement says “the involved youth have acknowledged that there are no sport team affiliations.” Both children arrested were released to family members.
MNPD says officers recovered 9.7 grams of marijuana from one minor, but in July of 2020 Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk announced his office would no longer press charges for simple marijuana possession under half an ounce, defined as 14.175 grams or less. MNPD says the minor received a Juvenile Court citation for the marijuana which will require him to speak with a counselor.
Kathryn Sinback, court administrator at the Davidson County Juvenile Court, says the court cannot legally answer specific questions about individual cases. But Sinback says all the court diverts all cases involving children under the age of 12, unless the charges involve first or second degree murder.
“For a drug case we would typically refer the child to a community provider that handles alcohol and drug issues,” Sinback said in an email statement.
Stansberry says MNPD’s actions were inexcusable and that officers should call other social services experts with child sensitivity training or outsource these types of calls to other organizations who are better prepared to handle mental illness or children.
“It’s traumatizing,” Stansberry says. “[That’s] a Black child who has to wake every single day and see a cop killing someone who looks like them. I would run too.”
Community members filed a complaint with the Metro Nashville Community Oversight committee, but Executive Director Jill Fitcheard says she had already seen the videos on social media and was concerned. Fitcheard says without cell phone video the public might never have known about the incident and encourages the community to continue letting the committee know about problems with law enforcement. She says this is one of the first juvenile cases the committee has dealt with since its inception and is eager to find a solution and learn more about MNPD policy for handling minors. According to MNPD, Officer Hamblen is a field training officer and had a new officer riding with him Sunday.
“If this is how officers are handling children in our city then we need to figure out a better way,” Fitcheard says.
Stansberry says she hopes Officer Hamblen is at least placed on administrative leave and hopes to see other agencies or organizations created that handle sensitive minor or mental health calls with more training than police officers receive. She says the oversight committee told her they have assigned an officer to investigate the case, and says if officers are tired and overworked, outsourcing certain calls could reduce their workload. If not, Stansberry says the consequences and lack of public trust could cause issues in the future.
“You’re creating a whole generation to hate and fear you,” Stansberry says. “You’re creating a whole bunch of people who don’t trust institutions.”