IJ Asks the U.S. Supreme Court to Reaffirm the Rights of Two Arkansas Children Handcuffed and Held at Gunpoint
Late one evening in January 2018, two boys—Haden and Weston Young, aged 12 and 14—left their grandparents’ house in Springdale, Arkansas. The football game they had been watching was at halftime, giving them the opportunity to walk several blocks to their home and finish the game there. Instead, the boys ended up face down on a sidewalk, with a gun pointed at their backs, their hands in cuffs.
Their nightmarish encounter—all of which was captured on video—began when a police officer in pursuit of two adults decided that these young boys fit the bill. The officer yelled: “What’s your name?” The older boy answered: “Haden Young.” Though the voice unmistakably belonged to a child, the officer, with his gun drawn, ordered the boys to lie on the ground.
In the meantime, the boys’ mother, Cassi Pollreis, walked out of the house to identify the boys as her own. Instead of listening to Cassi, who calmly told the officer that the boys were “12 and 14 years old,” the officer pointed a taser at her and told her to get back into the house. Not wanting to escalate the situation, Cassi complied, reassuring the boys as she was leaving them: “You’ll be all right . . . I promise.”
The officer then handcuffed the boys while keeping them on their stomachs. All this despite being told over the radio that one of the two fugitives he was looking for was a woman. The officer’s sergeant arrived six minutes later and let the boys go. As generally happens in these situations, the officer faced no consequences.
Outraged at what could have easily become a fatal encounter with police, Cassi and the boys sued for violations of their Fourth Amendment rights. The district court rejected the officer’s argument that he was entitled to qualified immunity, writing that “handcuffing two boys laying [sic] facedown on the ground, at gunpoint,” was “more intrusive than necessary.” But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, stating that the boys had never been “arrested” in the first place and instead had merely been subjected to an investigatory stop, which meant that Fourth Amendment protections did not apply.
But this can’t be right. If pointing a gun at someone and handcuffing them does not count as an arrest, then nothing does. True, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a narrow exception to arrest, called a Terry stop. But the Court stated that this exception is extremely limited. It does not apply to highly intrusive law enforcement conduct like that the boys were subjected to.
That’s why IJ teamed up with Cassi and her boys to ask the Supreme Court to grant review of this case and reverse the lower court’s decision. The 8th Circuit’s interpretation of the Terry exception is so broad it threatens to swallow the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. And although a victory for the Youngs can’t undo the trauma of that January night, it can help protect vital constitutional rights.
Anya Bidwell is an IJ attorney and the Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution.
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