Irving, Texas, police violated Ahmed Mohamed’s civil rights by denying his repeated requests to speak with his parents during his detention for a purported bomb that was in fact a clock.
Mohamed, a freshman at MacArthur High School, insists he repeatedly asked officers to call his parents while being interrogated. Mohamed was questioned at the school, then taken in handcuffs to a juvenile detention center, where he was fingerprinted and interrogated without his parents present, according to police and Mohamed.
Texas Family Code is clear this was not supposed to happen.
“A child may not be left unattended in a juvenile processing office and is entitled to be accompanied by the child’s parent, guardian, or other custodian or by the child’s attorney,” Section 52.025 (PDF) states.
Mohamed did not see his parents until he was released from a juvenile detention center, according to police and his family.
Furthermore, a “person taking a child into custody shall promptly give notice of the person’s action and a statement of the reason for taking the child into custody, to the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian.”
Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said he did “not have answers to [that] specific question” when reporters asked him Wednesday why Mohamed was not allowed to speak to his parents.
The executive director of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that answer is not good enough.
“Once they’re being questioned, they have a right to refuse answering,” Terri Burke told The Daily Beast. “And, unless it’s something like a traffic violation, [police] immediately need to release the child to their parents.”
At the very least, Mohamed should have been able to speak with his parents.
“If a child seeks to have a short conference with his parents, [the police] cannot deny them that. He has a right to talk to them. Kids don’t lose their rights because they’re kids or because they live in Texas.”
After being questioned in a closed room by police officers and MacArthur principal Daniel Cummings, Mohamed says he was taken out of the school in handcuffs to a juvenile detention center. A photo widely circulated on Twitter appears to corroborate his account.
Mohamed also alleges that Principal Cummings threatened to expel him if he didn’t write a statement, which Burke says she “can’t fathom.” (Eventually, Mohamed’s family wrote a statement for him that said, “I built a clock. The police think it’s a bomb.”)
“It would’ve been nice if the principal would’ve been honest. If the police take the kid in and convict him of being a terrorist [for the statement], he wouldn’t go back to school at all,” Burke said, about the alleged expulsion threat.
Burke’s advice for Texas parents in similar circumstances would be to file a grievance with the local school board.
“In my opinion, it’s the school that needs some remediation and some training in how to deal with these matters, if the parents want to fix a systemic problem,” she said. “This is a region of the state that has had more than its share of Islamophobic incidents. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but I would suggest there needs to be some introspection.”
As for advice parents should give their children in the event they are ever detained, she says to tell them to keep asking for mom and dad until they arrive.
“Insist that your parents are called. Good people make mistakes. Good police officers make mistakes. Good principals make mistakes. There’s too much at stake in a child’s life in a situation like this.”