Fact check: Photo shows Philadelphia police officer helping toddler, who wasn't lost

·4 min read

The claim: A photo depicts a police officer holding a toddler who was 'lost' amid 'violent riots' in Philadelphia

Demonstrations erupted in Philadelphia late last month after police officers shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was armed with a knife and whose family said he suffered from mental illness.

Amid the unrest, the National Fraternal Order of Police — the country's largest police union — posted a photo to its Facebook that depicted a police officer holding a toddler, per the Washington Post.

"This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness," the post read. "The only thing this Philadelphia Police Officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child."

"We are not your enemy. We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy," it continued.

Jessica T. Cahill, a spokesperson for the National Fraternal Order of Police, told USA TODAY that after posting the photo, they "subsequently learned of conflicting accounts of the circumstances under which the child came to be assisted by the officer and immediately took the photo and caption down."

Though the National Fraternal Order of Police removed their post, other pro-law enforcement pages — like Ohio Going Blue — reposted the photo and caption on Oct. 29.

Ohio Going Blue has not responded to a request from USA TODAY for comment.

The toddler was not lost

In reality, the toddler depicted in the photo clinging to a police officer was not "lost." In fact, he had just been removed from his family's car.

A video of the incident depicts two officers bashing in the window of the car, and one officer repeatedly hitting the driver with a baton. Officers then pulled a second adult out of the vehicle and removed the child from the backseat, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The driver was Rickia Young, a 28-year-old home health aide who had gone to pick up her 16-year-old nephew from a friend's house with her 2-year-old son in the backseat.

One of her attorneys, Kevin Mincey, told the Washington Post that she was temporarily detained by police — though she had to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment before she could be processed at the police station, since she was bruised and bleeding.

Young was separated from her son, who was hit in the head and left with a large bump on his forehead. His grandmother eventually found him sitting in his car seat in the back of a police cruiser with two officers in the front seats, per Mincey.

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Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the officer who smashed the vehicle’s windows is on restrictive duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation, per CBS Philly.

“As soon as it was brought to my attention, an Internal Affairs investigation had been initiated," Outlaw said at a press conference. "Since that time, we’ve identified the officer responsible or the one that we see using the strikes against the car. That officer has since been placed on restrictive duty pending the outcome of the investigation."

Police lead several people in handcuffs to a police van on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia in the early hours of Tuesday.
Police lead several people in handcuffs to a police van on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia in the early hours of Tuesday.

Riley H. Ross III — another attorney representing Young — took to Twitter to condemn the post from the National Fraternal Order of Police as pro-police "propaganda."

"Our firm will not stand for this blatant attempt to use our clients to peddle propaganda by using racism and fear to force compliance," he wrote.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, the claim that a child was lost during violent riots is FALSE, based on our research. In reality, the child was being helped out of the car by a police officer.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Toddler in photo wasn't lost at protests