It was a Friday afternoon when Jannea St. Cyere left her aunt’s Columbia Road apartment with her cousins and crossed the street to pick up her 12-year-old sister from the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot School.
The events that unfolded in the next 10 minutes left St. Cyere and three of her cousins charged with crimes, including assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and trespassing.
Interviewed at Jannea’s aunt’s Columbia Road apartment, the teens pieced together the events that led to their each receiving three months of unsupervised parole and an arrest record.
The day went from routine to bizarre, seemingly in an instant, when the Boston police officer working a paid detail in front of the school ordered St. Cyere, her cousins and the other children assembled on the sidewalk to stay off of school property.
They complied, standing instead in front of the homeless shelter at the corner of Columbia Road and Brunswick Street, approximately 30 feet from the edge of school property.
When St. Cyere stepped back toward the school, she says, signaling her sister to come to her, the officer grabbed the 15-year-old and slammed her on the side of a van, cutting her lower lip. Adding insult to injury, she said, the officer began cursing at her.
“I felt a huge force,” she said. “He just grabbed me and slammed me.”
Her cousin Vonita, also 15, grabbed her wrist while her cousin Maurice, 16, approached the officer in what, in hindsight, may have been an ill-advised attempt to defuse the situation.
“I tried to get him off my cousin,” said Maurice, a slimly built sophomore at Brighton High School. “I didn’t know what was happening. I wanted to see if my cousin was okay. She’s only 95 pounds, and she’s fragile.”
Another officer grabbed Maurice and dragged him to a cruiser, cuffed him and put him in the back of the car. From there, he watched as another officer slammed his sister on the ground, placing his knee on her chest, and then pinned her to the back of a cruiser.
“I was in the car. My sister’s shirt was all open. Her bra was showing. The police were yelling at my mother and aunt,” Maurice recalled.
When Maurice’s mother, also named Vonita, approached her daughter to help cover her bra, she said officers threatened to arrest her, too.
“They said, ‘We have a cruiser for you,’ ” Vonita St. Cyere said.
“We had to stand there and watch them treat our children the way they did,” said Carla St. Cyere, Jennea’s mother, who was also threatened with arrest when she attempted to intervene.
“It was a bad feeling,” she said. “Your child is calling, ‘Mommy, Mommy’ and you can’t do anything about it.”
An older cousin, Minnie St. Cyere, 22, was also arrested in the incident.
The incident report filed by the arresting officer, Henderson Parker, tells a different story, stating that the children were on school property when arrested, and that Jannea, when told she was under arrest, resisted arrest.
“As Officer Parker was trying to place [Jannea] under arrest, [Maurice] began to yell, ‘Yo, get your f— hands off my cousin,’ and began to forcibly pull Officer Parker from [Jannea],” Henderson’s report reads.
The report says that Vonita grabbed Jannea, forcing her and Officer Juan Gomez to fall to the ground, and that another cousin, Minnie, 22, “dove onto Officer Gomez’s back.”
The cousins, on the other hand, say Gomez grabbed Vonita, pulled her from Jannea and slammed her facedown onto the dirt in front of the shelter on Brunswick Street. They maintain that none of them set foot on school property until they were handcuffed and taken to waiting police cruisers.
Jannea and Maurice were each charged with assault and battery on a police officer, trespassing and resisting arrest. Vonita was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. The teens say none of them struck or grabbed an officer.
All three of the teens are small in stature. Jannea, who estimates her arresting officer was more than 6 feet tall, is shorter than the 12-year-old sister she was sent to pick up from school.
But activists say the charges the St. Cyere teens face are not uncommon among youth arrested in Boston.
“Any time there’s injuries on a kid, they’re going to say it’s assault and battery on a police officer,” said community activist Jamarhl Crawford. “It’s an ass-covering measure.”
The layering of charges — trespassing and resisting arrest — is also common, Crawford said.
“These are superfluous charges, charges they throw on you like sprinkles on a cupcake,” he said. “They never hit you with just one charge. That way, something’s going to stick.”
After their arrests, all of the St. Cyere children were driven to the Area B police station, where they were fingerprinted and cuffed by their ankles to separate chairs.
The teens waited five hours to be released.
“They were looking for their fingerprints in the database,” Vonita St. Cyere conjectured. “I told them, ‘You’re not going to find anything. These are good kids.’ ”
Each of the teens remembers seeing their names written on a whiteboard with the charges written next to them.
“I was thinking, ‘I wasn’t even on school property. Why was I charged with trespassing?’ ” Jennea recalled.
Carla St. Cyere said Officer Henderson apologized to her and Vonita St. Cyere at the Area B station.
During the arraignment at Dorchester District Court the next day, Henderson, Gomez and the judge agreed to drop the charges if the children wrote an apology for the incident, Carla St. Cyere said.
But, in another bizarre twist, the assistant district attorney on the case refused to drop the charges.
In the end, each of the teens ended up with three months of pre-trial probation, an arrangement that meant the charges would be dropped if they were not arrested for anything else during that period.
The mothers said they agreed to plead guilty because they didn’t want their children to be targeted by police in the future.
While they all now have arrest records, none had any prior run-ins with the law, save for Maurice, who estimates he’s been stopped — sometimes with excessive force — and questioned five times by Boston police officers.
The teens are well-spoken and polite. When describing being cursed out by their arresting officers, the teens don’t repeat the swear words they say the officers used on them.
“They’re the kind of kids who enjoy going to school,” said Carla. “After school, they all go together to the Grove Hall Library and study.”
“I honestly think the only reason I get jacked by the police is because I’m tall and black,” said Maurice, who is 5’9”. “Light-skinned people and Caucasians can dress like me and not get stopped.”
Maurice was once stopped and slammed against a wall when an officer apparently mistook a bulging pack of Oreo cookies for a weapon.
“What was I going to do, shoot cream at someone?” he said.
Now that he has an arrest record, his mother worries that things will be even worse with the police.
“My fear is the next time he gets jacked by the police, they’ll see his record that says he assaulted a police officer,” Vonita St. Cyere said.
Standing on her front porch, Vonita can look up Columbia Road to the corner of Devon Street, where she says she’s seen three shootings in recent years, two of which resulted in fatalities. But she says she worries more about the police than about the thugs, who only target each other.
“If the police were really doing their job, they would know how to tell the difference between a good kid and a bad kid,” she said. “I’m a tax-paying citizen. I pay the police’s salary. I should feel safe. But I don’t. They’re not building trust in the community.”