A 10-year-old boy was charged with aggravated assault for throwing a ball at a classmate during a dodgeball-like game at school; charges have been dropped, but could be reinstated.
Prosecutors said that the 10-year-old and several other students were playing a game called Tips, which involves throwing a ball in the air and catching it while jumping off the ground, on April 29. After the game ended, the 10-year-old then allegedly threw the ball at a 9-year-old classmate, "intentionally" and "with force," according to a press release from the prosecutor's office.
The younger classmate suffered a concussion and abrasions to the face, and his mother reported the incident to the Canton Township Police Department. The injured boy's mother told local TV station WXYZ that he has a medical condition that makes head injuries especially dangerous. After an investigation, the 10-year-old was charged with aggravated assault and ordered to appear in court.
However, the charges were dismissed before the first scheduled court hearing, which would have been held on August 1.
"While the charge in this case is certainly sustainable, I have instructed my staff to dismiss this case today," said prosecuting attorney Kym Worthy in a press release published on Wednesday morning. "It is my earnest hope that both sides will come back to the table to work out a solution that benefits both of these children... I want to make sure that both children are served as we move forward, and hopefully these charges will not have to be revisited.
"The 10-year-old who was charged was suspended from school for a day, his mother told WXYZ, saying she thought the incident would end there. "This is a kid who was playing on the playground with his friends," Cameishi Lindley told the station. "I’m sorry that her child got hurt. I’d be sorry for any child that got hurt.”
A Facebook fundraiser set up to raise money for the accused child's potential legal defense raised over $15,000 in donations from more than 500 donors.
"I have no doubt that both families involved love their children and want the best for them," prosecutor Kym Worthy said. "But I do think that there is a better way to go forward at this time."
How do adult charges affect kids?
Even though the charges were dropped, developmental psychologist Christia Brown said that criminalizing childish and schoolyard behavior could lead to negative consequences for children.
"It ultimately says 'We see you as a criminal'" she said. "That's a real, criminal, purposeful claim about who that kid is, and I think that that, particularly for black boys, is a message they get so many other times too. When you apply that to a person, it starts to run the risk of kids internalizing those kinds of messages."
Brown said that she believed the severity of the charges stemmed from a mix of research-proven biases: that men are more likely to be criminalized and punished compared to women, that children of color can be seen as older than their true age, and that black students are more likely to be criminalized for behaviors than kids of other races. "Whether it be misbehaviors in class, whether it be any kind of school behavior, black boys are more likely to have severe consequences, and more likely to have police be involved even at the school," Brown said.
She also explained that developmentally, children at the age of ten understand the difference between right and wrong, but lack the "behavior regulation" that adults may have.
"Anyone who is around kids knows that they don't have the same regulatory abilities adults have," Brown said. "These types of charges don't fit the level of regulation kids are able to do. A kid can be frustrated and act out and not be able to regulate their behaviors the same way adults do, so having these really adult-sounding charges for a kid who's operating with an underdeveloped brain is a real mismatch of what the kid is doing purposefully and what the charges are."
Brown said that while children are capable of committing crimes, it's important to understand the difference between this situation and others.
"Kids are capable of knowing right and wrong, but we need to be really mindful of 'What are we criminalizing?'" she said. "This wasn't breaking and entering. This wasn't stealing from a store. In dodgeball, the goal is to throw a ball at people."
Overall, the situation should have been handled at a school level, as it initially was before being escalated.
"That is an issue to be resolved at school," Brown said. "I think when it goes into legal recourse, it's saying that this is such bad behavior that the schools can't even handle it... I think making this sound like it belongs in a courtroom, as opposed to the principal's office, is a really big misrepresentation of what the child did and what most 10-year-olds do."