SNELLVILLE, Ga. - The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department suspended an off-duty deputy and reduced his rank for pinning an 8-year-old boy to the ground and handcuffing him after the child hit his mother's car window.
The November 20, 2015 incident was captured on security video outside the Snellville child care center where the boy's mother works.
It showed the 8-year-old waiting outside the center that afternoon for his grandfather to pick him up. Deputy Greg Ross had children there, too. On the video, he arrived off-duty in plain clothes to drop off a gift.
The video is silent, but Ross would later tell Internal Affairs the boy's mother approached asking for help in controlling her son's unruly behavior.
"Is there anything you can do?" Ross remembered. "That was, to me, that's what started the whole thing."
But the boy's mom Kathleen Hutcherson insisted she didn't ask for the deputy's help at all.
"No sir. Absolutely not," she stressed. "My son was standing against the building. There wasn't a situation until Sgt. Ross confronted my son and demanded my son look into his eyes."
The child had previous disciplinary problems and was no longer attending his mother's after-school program. The security video showed the boy walking away from the deputy and his mother, kicking some bushes, circling the parking lot, walking through the school to the empty playground in the back.
His mom said she was keeping an eye on him and had no idea the deputy was behind her.
"I'm trying to keep the juvenile safe," Ross told the Sheriff's Internal Affairs investigator.
"As Sgt. Ross is following my son, my son keeps looking over his shoulder to see where Sgt. Ross is," remembered Ms. Hutcherson.
When they returned to the front, the boy hopped on the hood of his mother's car. That's when Ross said he started thinking about something else: jailhouse videos the FOX 5 I-Team aired two years ago, showing Ross leading an elite jail team to restrain problem prisoners.
"If I… looking at this and sat and did nothing and he gets hurt, and then someone decides to play all the videos from the jail and yeah, you know this doesn't look right, this doesn't look right," Ross emphatically told the investigator. "And say, ok, you stopped these inmates from hurting themselves, but this little boy is walking around in the parking lot and you do nothing?"
So Ross grabbed the boy, who shook loose trying to get inside his mom's car. The deputy eventually took him to the ground, and when the mom went inside to get her car keys, Ross showed the boy his handcuffs. Then he put them away when the mom returned.
Ross released him to his mother. But when the child angrily hit the car window, Ross decided it was time to slap on the cuffs.
"Could that have been an example of something where Sgt. Ross said oh, I've got to take this aggressive approach to get him under control?" asked FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis.
"Personally, I don't feel so," replied Ms. Hankerson. "Whether it was my child or any other child, I don't believe so."
The video showed Ross on the child's back for nearly 15 minutes. Snellville police arrived and released the boy. During the takedown, Ross called 911 to report what was happening.
911 dispatcher: Is that him in the background?
Child: Get off me!
"I was hysterical," said the boy's mom. "I was begging him to let him go, to pick him up. I kept trying to get my son up but he just refused and would not let me." Tc: 2:42 Kathleen Hutcherson/Mom
Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway determined that Ross violated use of force rules, suspending him for two weeks and reducing his rank to corporal.
"Sherriff Conway does expect all our deputies to exercise good judgment at all times whether they're on-duty or off," stressed department spokesperson Shannon Volkodav.
Ross' commander suggested only a one-day suspension, saying the deputy prevented "self-harming behavior" by the child. That's the same term authorities often used to justify putting Gwinnett jail inmates in those restraint chairs.
The boy's mom thought the punishment wasn't tough enough.
"I want to see Sgt. Ross terminated," insisted Ms. Hutcherson.
"You think what he did was that wrong?"
"Absolutely. Absolutely. My son had done absolutely nothing wrong that day. And for him to be down on the ground handcuffing him, when I'm as his parent standing right there asking to have my son, absolutely."