Eight-year-old assaulted by Philly school police, father says

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School District of Philadelphia headquarters

A Northeast Philadelphia third grader was forcibly removed from his classroom, detained in a bathroom, and berated by a school police officer over a routine classroom management issue, the boy’s father said.

The boy, Isaac Gardner Jr., is a student at Solis-Cohen Elementary. On Oct. 20, after he wouldn’t sit down in art class, the officer “dragged my son out of the classroom,” took him into a nearby adult bathroom, and shut the door, said his father, Isaac Gardner Sr.

The officer “threw my son on the floor and against the wall,” Gardner said. He also hurled insults at the boy, said Gardner, calling him “a sissy” and telling him “F- your father.”

Gardner said he believes that was a reference to his own activity with Black Lives Matter. Gardner has been a vocal critic of city police, particularly around the death of David Jones, a North Philadelphia man shot to death by a Philadelphia officer.

Although they were not informed about the incident by the school initially, they say, the Gardner family eventually filed both a police report and a school district complaint against the school police officer, whom they identified as Joe O’Malley.

Royce Merriweather, head of the Philadelphia school police officers’ union, said O’Malley had been cleared of any wrongdoing after investigations by the district and the city’s Department of Human Services. “He’s been through the wringer, and they said the charges were unfounded,” said Merriweather.

But the school district is continuing its investigation, said spokesman H. Lee Whack Jr.  “Any time we get a report like this we treat it very seriously because the safety of our students is always our top priority,” he said. “The officer was immediately removed from the school when this was reported and will not be in a school until the investigation is complete.”

Efforts to reach O’Malley were unsuccessful.

The case has attracted attention. On Tuesday, the Gardner family was joined by an attorney from the Education Law Center, and representatives from education activist groups, Black Lives Matter and the national civil-rights group the Advancement Project at a news conference to highlight the incident.

Gardner said he planned to sue the school system, but that his larger goal is to let the public know about the potential for harm inside city schools.

“At the end of the day, this can happen to anyone’s child,” said Gardner, who said he and his wife have been satisfied with their children’s education and blame the officer, not the school, for the incident.