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Police say case of handcuffed 9-year-old girl indicates 'gap in policy'

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PORTLAND, Ore. - A Portland police officer told a citizen oversight panel Wednesday night that a case in which officers handcuffed a nine-year-old girl shows an area where the police department has a policy gap.

The department has set up a work group to examine its juvenile custody directives, posting the directives on its website Wednesday and inviting public comment.

"This is an area where the Police Bureau has identified a gap in policy," Capt. Dave Famous said. He told the citizen panel he'll update it next month on the work group's progress.

The little girl's mother, Latoya Harris, is disturbed that two officers who handcuffed her daughter in May 2013 and took her to headquarters to have her fingerprints and mugshot taken were not disciplined. She appealed to the citizen panel to take some action. Portland police previously had said the officers were following police bureau policy, the Oregonian reported.

"Please make sure this does not happen to another child," Harris told the committee tearfully. "No child should be treated like that."

Two officers investigating a fight at a youth club came to the girl's home, handcuffed her as she stood in a bathing suit and led her away to be processed on a fourth-degree assault charge.

The girl's mother wasn't allowed to accompany her in the police car, and the girl was held for an hour. Prosecutors didn't take the case to trial.

Two juvenile advocates invited to the Wednesday night meeting say they found nothing in state law or current police department directives that prohibit what the officers did.

"There's no statute that says they can't do that," said Joseph Hagedon, chief supervising attorney for the Metropolitan Public Defender's juvenile unit. "That's the unfortunate thing."

Hagedorn and Mark McKechnie, executive director of the not-for-profit law firm Youth, Rights & Justice, have drafted a proposed city ordinance to change that.

Among other things, the proposed ordinance would prohibit police from arresting anyone under the age of 10 without a juvenile court order. It would also allow police to take children ages 10 and 11 into custody only on Class A or B felonies, "when there is no means less restrictive to ensure the child's appearance in court." For less serious offences, a court order would be needed.

"When they put handcuffs on, I thought, 'Wait a minute, this has got to be a joke,'" the girl's mother told the newspaper earlier. "The look on my daughter's face went from humiliation and fear, to a look of sheer panic."

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