See something say something: passerby helps prevent potential injustice

Above, Marques Armstrong’s Facebook live stream captured an incident involving a teen and police that “didn’t look good to him.

Traumatized teen spared detention

“See something say something” is a catchphrase popularly used to encourage folks in the U.S. to be watchful for suspicious activity. But in the case of Marques Armstrong and his wife Nekima Levy-Armstrong, it motivated them to come to the aid of a young girl who appeared to be in peril, putting themselves at potential risk of arrest or worse as they intervened on her behalf.

Anyone casually spending time on the social media Facebook locally on Wednesday night, October 16, were greeted by a live feed showing a young girl with a hoodie surrounded by and struggling with law officers. At first glance, it appeared to many as just another recalcitrant young person willfully resisting the police for no apparent reason.

Marques Armstrong was at the Hennepin County Medical Center’s Urgent Care when he witnessed hospital security and Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies “dragging” a young girl out of the emergency area of the hospital. She was screaming, “I’m not going to Child Protection!” Armstrong said he took out his cell phone and began live-streaming the situation on Facebook because as he said, “it didn’t look good.”

The Facebook live stream showed police roughly handling the girl as they struggled to get her into a sheriff’s department squad car. One officer appeared to have his knee on the girl’s neck as they struggled with her.

Armstrong, who said he feared the girl was going to get hurt, called his wife, Nekima Levy-Armstrong, to come to the hospital immediately to see if she could help resolve the situation. Levy-Armstrong arrived on the scene and identified herself as a civil rights attorney. Fortunately, deputies and Minneapolis police, who had also been called to the scene, allowed Levy-Armstrong to talk to the minor, who complained about her handcuffs being too tight.

After the handcuffs were loosened, the 16-year-old explained that her mother had gone to Hennepin Healthcare suffering some kind of mental health crisis for which she would have to be hospitalized. She asked the hospital staff to call her father.

For reasons not made clear, the hospital, rather than attempting to contact the girl’s family, instead called Child Protection. Also not clear is whether the girl’s insistence that her father be contacted to come and pick her up led hospital staff and security to send her to juvenile detention. What also is not clear is what precipitated the need for hospital security and Hennepin County deputies to drag a 16-year-old girl off the premises.

In response to an MSR inquiry, Hennepin Healthcare’s media relations wrote, “We are aware of the incident that occurred in front of the emergency department on the evening of October 16, 2019, and are thoroughly reviewing the circumstances that led to it.

“Our concern is for the safety of all patients, visitors, and staff as we seek to maintain a healing environment. Because we protect our patients’ right to privacy, Hennepin Healthcare will not disclose details about private health information—including care decisions—to any unauthorized individual. This is in compliance with state and federal law.”

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department explained its involvement by saying they were responding to a request for assistance from hospital security.

The live stream captured the struggle between the young girl and police and captured what appeared to be an outsized response by Minneapolis police as several squad cars appeared on the scene. A Minneapolis police representative explained that they had been asked for assistance by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office. When asked why so many squads responded to the situation, he said, “An incident can quickly escalate and turn into a public disturbance.”

Ironically, the number of police and police cars appeared to turn an isolated incident into a public disturbance and left many of the over 30,000 FaceBook viewers who commented on the post wondering why there was such an overwhelming show of force to deal with a 16-year-old.

While some viewers saw the girl as being unnecessarily resistant, Armstrong pointed out, “When the hospital and hospital staff chose to call the police instead of the girl’s father, they were the ones who were out of compliance.” He added, “If someone is committing a crime against you, you legally have the right to resist.”

Levy-Armstrong was able to reach out to Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo and the Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson, who both agreed the girl did not need to go to juvenile detention and should be released. She was eventually allowed to go home with her father.

“The girl was likely already traumatized by what happened to her mother, and the police were re-traumatizing her,” surmised Armstrong. “Just think what could have and probably would have happened had we not been there for that girl. It’s a good chance that if she had gone to Child Protection, a case would have been opened and she would have been in the system.”