Honestie Hodges, who was handcuffed by the police outside her home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when she was 11, a frightening incident that drew outrage and national headlines in 2017, died Sunday. She was 14.
Her death, at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, was caused by COVID-19, her grandmother Alisa Niemeyer wrote in a post on the website GoFundMe.
The police incident occurred Dec. 6, 2017. Honestie had stepped out the back door of her home with her mother and another family member to go to the store when they were confronted by police officers with their guns drawn.
“Put your hands on top of your—,” an officer ordered them before he was interrupted by Honestie’s mother screaming, “She is 11 years old, sir!”
“Stop yelling!,” the officer responded, as recorded by an officer’s body camera. He ordered Honestie to walk backward toward him with her hands up.
A second officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back and handcuffed her. Honestie shouted, “No, No, No!,” pleading with the officers not to place the cuffs on her. The police, who said they had been searching for a 40-year-old woman in connection with a stabbing, removed the handcuffs after several minutes.
The incident caused a widespread uproar that led to a soul-searching within the Grand Rapids Police Department. In a news conference, the police chief at the time, David Rahinsky, said that “listening to the 11-year-old’s response makes my stomach turn; it makes me physically nauseous.” He retired in 2019.
None of the officers were disciplined because they had not violated any departmental policies, Rahinsky wrote in a statement at the time. Nonetheless, the department acknowledged that the officers had made a mistake in how they handled the child.
By then the police force was already facing criticism for a similar encounter that March in which five innocent teenagers were held at gunpoint.
At the time, Honestie, who was Black, spoke out. “I have a question for the Grand Rapids police: If this happened to a white child, if her mother was screaming, ‘She’s 11,’ would you have handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police car?” she was quoted as saying on MLive.com, a Michigan news site.
In March 2018, the Police Department adopted the “Honestie Policy,” which called for using the least restrictive options when dealing with youths. Even so, several more incidents involving the police pointing weapons at children have heightened tensions in Grand Rapids. A local television station, WOOD-TV, reported this summer that Honestie and her family were negotiating with the city to settle a claim filed over the handcuffing episode.
Honestie developed severe stomach pains on Nov. 9, her 14th birthday. Taken to the hospital, she tested positive for the new coronavirus and was sent home. But her condition worsened that evening, an ambulance was called, and she was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit. Over the next few days she received iron and blood transfusions as complications arose. She was placed on a ventilator on Nov. 14. But her condition never improved. Niemeyer updated the GoFundMe page asking for prayers.
Then, on Sunday, Niemeyer wrote: “It is with an extremely heavy heart that I have to tell you that my beautiful, sassy, smart, loving granddaughter has gone home to be with Jesus.”
Niemeyer had created the GoFundMe page to collect donations for her daughter, Whitney Hodges, who had to stop working to care for Honestie and her four other children.
Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Honestie was not the youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Michigan.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that COVID-19 deaths among children were rare overall, but that Hispanic and Black children were more likely than their white peers to be hospitalized or admitted to an ICU.
Niemeyer told WOOD-TV, a local television station, that Honestie had been “healthy and happy” with no underlying health issues.
“She could have been the vice president one day, or maybe the president,” Niemeyer said. “The world was open to her.”