The Akron mother didn’t know where else to turn.
Her daughter hit her kindergarten teacher, threw chairs in the classroom and smashed students’ hands in the door. She got expelled from elementary school.
Curtisha Mitchell reached out to Christopher Hendon after learning on Facebook that he was offering a free service to assist Akron youth with discipline problems.
At her invitation, Hendon picked up her 6-year-old daughter from her home in late March, put the crying girl in handcuffs and took her to the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center. He returned the girl a few hours later, with the promise to come back if she misbehaved again.
Mitchell is among several Akron parents who say Hendon deserves praise rather than punishment for the service he provided to wayward young people. Hendon, 26, of Akron, is facing 60 serious criminal charges for his Scared Straight tactics. The charges include kidnapping, impersonating a police officer, child endangering and assault.
“I don’t feel it was wrong what he was doing,” Mitchell said. “He helped my daughter.”
Hendon’s hefty indictment also has raised questions among several prominent African-American leaders in Akron. They question whether Hendon deserves so many charges — and if others who failed to stop his activities also should be punished.
NAACP Akron Chapter President Judi Hill said her agency is concerned about the “sheer volume of charges” against Hendon when he was trying to provide a positive service. She also noted he has no prior criminal record as an adult.
“Our hope is he will be given the opportunity to learn from his errors and serve our community in a productive manner,” said Hill, who attended one of Hendon’s recent pretrials in Summit County Common Pleas Court as a show of support.
Summit County prosecutors, however, are standing by their decision to prosecute Hendon on a long list of offenses.
Hendon is accused of impersonating a police officer and taking children in handcuffs from their schools and elsewhere to the Summit County Juvenile Court or the Summit County Jail between March 29 and April 6 as part of his Scared Straight effort.
“This case involves 13 children, one as young as 6 years old,” Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in an emailed statement. “These children were handcuffed, restrained and physically assaulted … The number of charges in this case is based upon what Mr. Hendon did to each young victim.”
Walsh said Hendon “put the lives and safety of young children at risk and we intend to prove that when the case goes to trial.”
“The grand jury indicted on these charges based upon the evidence presented,” Walsh added. “Detailed facts will come out in the courtroom at the appropriate time.”
Hendon is free on a $2,500 bond. He is next due in Judge Christine Croce’s court Tuesday.
While Hendon’s case works its way through the court system, some African-American leaders are asking why no one else is being held accountable if children were allegedly in danger.
They point to the officials in the schools where Hendon picked children up and the deputies and court officials in the juvenile and adult jails where he attempted to take the youth numerous times before he was arrested.
“If children were at risk, the actions or inactions of other people put them at risk,” said the Rev. Greg Harrison of Antioch Baptist Church.
Harrison said Hendon may have done some things he shouldn’t have, but “some charges may be due to the negligence of others.”
Akron Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples, who was among the first to speak out on Hendon’s behalf, said she thinks he is facing too many charges.
“This seems to happen way too often in the system with young African-American men,” she said. “I hope that this process can be looked thoroughly into sooner than later.”
Mosley-Samples has said that Hendon, who had dreams of being an officer but had instead been working as a security guard, reached out to her in March to see if the city could help with his Scared Straight program. She advised him to put together a presentation for council. This never happened.
So far, at least one person has faced repercussions for assisting Hendon with his efforts.
Summit County Juvenile Court fired a civilian employee who worked in the juvenile jail for “violating court policy when she left the Master Control area unattended to speak with Mr. Hendon in the lobby,” said Don Ursetti, a spokesman for the court.
Hendon “was never allowed to enter the secure area of the detention center,” Ursetti said.
Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry confirmed that Hendon was never permitted into secured areas at either the juvenile or adult jails. He said Hendon appeared to be a law enforcement officer.
“Part of the problem is, you have programs not only in this county but all over that we’re not even 100 percent familiar with due to different organizations, boot camps,” Barry said.
Barry said children under 18 are rarely allowed into the Summit County Jail.
The sheriff’s office has not disciplined any employees stemming from Hendon’s actions and hasn’t changed its entry policies, said Lt. Bill Holland, a spokesman for the sheriff.
“This is still an ongoing investigation,” he added.
The Akron school district didn’t discipline any staff after Hendon took students out of one of the schools, district spokesman Mark Williamson said. He said the district did, however, review procedures for children to be taken out of school and banned Hendon from entry to any Akron school.
“He was so effective at what he did in convincing people,” Williamson said. “Even police officers who saw him didn’t question him.”
Hendon declined to be interviewed for this story, but he has expressed himself freely on Facebook, both before and after his arrest.
He used Facebook as his platform to solicit interest in his efforts, to post updates, photos and videos, and to express frustration about his arrest.
“Good news y’all I think today we was able to put one of our future stars back on the right path,” Hendon wrote in a March 29 post accompanied by photographs of a young boy crying in his back seat, sitting in what appears to be a detention area and smiling in the back seat with Hendon in the front seat.
“Today was a real tough day for this young man,” he wrote in another post. “I believe he was so scared he may not even sneeze wrong.”
Hendon posted several photos featuring Akron police officers or Summit County Sheriff’s deputies with young people in his Scared Straight program. He also shared photos of him and other adults with children picking up trash in the community.
“I once was a troubled teen and my life has been forever changed by officers from APD (Akron Police Department),” he wrote in a March 13 post. “I know that I and a few others can do the same for another child.”
Hendon touched on his goals again in a birthday post he wrote on March 30 that included a photo of him holding an assault rifle.
“Blessed to see 26 today,” he said. “But my main goal is to still focus on these kids and help them get back on the right track before it’s too late.”
After his arrest, he posted a picture of his attorney’s business card April 29 and urged people who support him to write to the lawyer, Don Malarcik. He received lots of supportive replies.
Several of Hendon’s supporters have urged him to stop posting to social media. He hasn’t heeded their warnings, though he did remove the prior posts that pertained to his Scared Straight effort. He also hasn’t slowed his efforts to work with kids.
Hendon announced April 2 that he was starting a program called Building Our Youth Strong (BOYS). A month later, he posted that he had the logo done and was taking orders for T-shirts.
“I will support your effort financially just help my grandson,” one woman wrote to Hendon.
Mother seeks help
Before Mitchell sought help from Hendon, she called Summit County Children Services, seeking a program to help her daughter.
She said she was told there weren’t any. Her daughter had already been kicked out of a Child Guidance program.
Mitchell, 30, a single mother with five children under 11, contacted Hendon on Facebook March 30, when she learned that her daughter had hit her teacher again. Hendon offered to come to her home that afternoon.
Mitchell said she wasn’t nervous because Hendon grew up with her cousin.
“I was trying to scare my daughter to get her to act right in school,” said Mitchell, a home health care worker.
Mitchell took videos before and after Hendon brought her daughter to the juvenile jail.
In the first video, Hendon put handcuffs on the girl and told her she was going to jail for the weekend. Tears streamed down the girl’s face.
“I don’t care about tears,” Hendon told her. “Tears don’t faze me.”
Mitchell got a paper towel and wiped her daughter’s face.
“I’ll see you on Monday,” Mitchell told her. “I love you.”
“I love you,” the girl responded.
In the second video after Hendon returned the girl, she told her mother, “I’m sorry for being bad.”
Hendon asked the girl about the three important things he taught her. The girl, teary eyed, wrung her T-shirt while Hendon reminded her: family, education, God.
“Without those, you’re nothing,” Hendon said. “We’re not going to have this talk anymore, right?”
The girl gave her mom a hug.
Afterward, Mitchell said, Hendon continued to check up on her daughter on Facebook. A few weeks later, he took her daughter and other children to pick up trash at a nearby park. Mitchell said she noticed an improvement in her daughter’s behavior.
That changed, however, after Hendon’s arrest. Mitchell said her daughter got teased by other kids for “letting a fake cop arrest her.” When her daughter acted out, Mitchell said she threatened to call police and her daughter replied, “They’re fake anyway.”
If Hendon hadn’t been arrested, Mitchell said she would still have him working with her daughter. Mitchell, whose daughter isn’t among the alleged victims in the indictment against Hendon, said she would be willing to testify on his behalf in court.
Malarcik said Mitchell’s comments are similar to what he has heard from three other parents who support Hendon and his efforts. He said Hendon wasn’t hiding what he was doing. In fact, he was broadcasting it on Facebook for anyone to see.
“He’s not a criminal,” Malarcik said.
Staff writer Rick Armon contributed to this report. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com or on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.
Parents back Akron man accused of impersonating police officer; prominent black leaders question serious charges against Christopher Hendon
The Akron mother didn’t know where else to turn.