Police officers in California's capital are coming under fire after a video surfaced showing them forcing a 12-year-old black child to the ground and placing a "spit mask" over his head while he was in handcuffs.
The incident occurred in April near a carnival in Sacramento and resulted in the child being arrested on charges of battery on an officer and resisting arrest, said Sacramento Police Department officials. The boy was later turned over to the custody of his mother.
But community activists and a lawyer for the child called the incident an example of excessive force on a child who weighs less than 80 pounds.
"This should have never happened. This went way beyond what is legitimate and credible in terms of this detention of this young man," the child's attorney, Mark T. Harris, of the Benjamin Crump law firm in Sacramento, told ABC News on Wednesday.
The incident comes a little over a year since days of protests broke out in Sacramento over the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was shot at in his grandmother's backyard.
A video of the April 28 arrest of the juvenile surfaced Tuesday after members of Black Lives Matter Sacramento and Harris posted it on social media.
A Sacramento police spokesman said officials are "looking at the entire incident."
Police said they put the mesh "spit mask" over the boys head because he repeatedly spat in the face of a female officer and was resisting arrest.
"Our officers involved in this incident appropriately used a spit mask to protect themselves and defuse the situation," Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said in a statement released on Wednesday. "I am grateful that our officers were willing to proactively intervene when they observed suspicious activity, and that nobody was injured during this encounter."
Hahn authorized the public release of police body camera footage of the incident that showed the boy struggling with officers as they handcuffed him and tried to put him in the back of a police car. As the child continued to struggle, curse and asked repeatedly what he was being arrested for, the officers forced him to the ground and put the white bag over his head, the footage shows.
"The facts are that our officers were in the area and they observed a security guard who was chasing someone and our officers were simply trying to help that security guard," Sacramento Police Sgt. Vance Chandler told ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento. "The juvenile spit in the face of our officer multiple times. And a spit mask was put on the juvenile. It wasn't something else and we want to make sure our entire community knows what a spit mask is."
The mask is a synthetic, mesh bag used by police officers to protect them against bodily fluids.
In a cellphone video taken by a citizen, a private security guard is seen chasing the child before two police officers join in and detain the boy, whose name has not been released. A struggle ensues and the boy is seen in the video spitting in the officers' face before he is taken to the ground and the spit mask is placed over his head.
"Yeah, I spit on you all," the boy is heard saying in the video as a female officer is seen wiping her cheek.
The arrest occurred around 7:45 p.m. near a carnival and drew the attention of passersby who began filming the incident with cellphones and yelling at police. One man is heard in the video yelling, "Look at that, look at that, police brutality."
“We want to make sure that the greater Sacramento community, the state of California and the world is aware of what happened to this young man, who was doing nothing more than trying to enjoy the benefits of a neighborhood carnival,” Harris said in a video he posted of the incident on social media.
In the police body camera, the security guard who was initially chasing the child said the boy had been going back and forth across a street panhandling at a Wienerschnitzel restaurant and a Walgreens store, and asking people to buy him merchandise.
"Even if you take what they say is the worst that the young man did, asking for money, which is not a crime in California and surely isn't a crime for someone 12 years old that is 4-foot-7 and 70 pounds, it doesn't warrant this type of treatment," Harris told ABC News. "He's no threat."
Harris said the child was not panhandling. He said the youngster was at a carnival with adults and other children from his neighborhood, and that one of the adults sent him to a car to get change to spend at the carnival.
Harris said he's been practicing law for 40 years and has "never seen a person detained on scene with a bag over their head."
"This is like some Selma, Alabama, circa 1960s stuff," he added.
Harris said he and the child's parents met last week with a Sacramento police accountability official to express outrage over how the child was arrested. He said he also spoke with Chief Hahn about the incident.
Harris and the child's family are asking the police to apologize, drop all charges against the child and reprimand the officers involved in his arrest.
"If they do not comply, we will do everything within our authority as lawyers to represent them [the boy and his family] and do what's necessary, up to and including filing the appropriate lawsuit," Harris said. "That is absolutely on the table."