Yesterday, I decided to spend the day catching up on my reading. The weather was cold and snowy, and it was dark outside. It was the perfect weather for finishing my latest book, Rachael Denhollander’s What is a Girl Worth. I’ll probably review it later, if I don’t have any technical issues with the blog. For some reason, I’ve been having some technical difficulties this morning.
Anyway, while I was reading my book, I happened to catch one of Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook posts. She shared a news article from the Orlando Sentinel about a shocking incident that occurred in September of last year. Reporter Grace Toohey wrote about the horrifying arrest of six-year-old Kaia Rolle, who attended Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy last fall.
Kaia suffers from sleep apnea that causes her to act out. School staff members were aware of Kaia’s condition and working with her to overcome it. On the day of her arrest, Kaia had a pretty serious temper tantrum at school, possibly brought on by her sleep apnea. Kaia had punched and kicked three school employees. But she later calmed down, and was quietly listening to a story being read to her by a staff member when former police officer Dennis Turner and a colleague arrived on the scene.
When Kaia saw the big cop with zip ties in his hands, she asked “What are those for?”
Turner said, “They’re for you.” He handed them to his colleague, while Kaia figured out what was about to happen.
The other officer tightened the zip ties around Kaia’s wrists as she started crying, begging, and screaming for help. Then, former Officer Turner marched the little girl out of the school and put her in the back of his police car. She was charged with misdemeanor battery, though the charges were dropped the next day. That same day, Turner arrested a six year old boy at the same school for the same crime, although the boy’s arrest was stopped by superiors before he’d gone through the whole process. Kaia was actually taken to a juvenile center, fingerprinted, and mugshot. She was so tiny that staff had to get her to stand on a step stool so her photo could be taken.
I’ve found the body cam video for this incident several places on the Internet, but almost all of them cut off the end. The most accessible videos only show Turner putting Kaia in the back of a police SUV, probably without a booster seat. She’s clearly terrified and traumatized, but that part was somehow less shocking to me than the very end of the video, which is visible on the Orlando Sentinel’s article. Supposedly, Turner arrested Kaia because one of the school’s staff members she’d punched and kicked had wanted to press charges. School officials denied that was ever the case.
On the longer video, we can see Turner going back into the school and speaking to staffers. The school officials were clearly concerned about Kaia. They asked Turner if it was really necessary to restrain the girl with zip ties. Turner said that if Kaia had been bigger, she’d be wearing regular handcuffs. Then, as if to boast, he said he’d arrested over 6,000 people and the youngest one was about seven years old. When he was told that Kaia was six, he said with a touch of amusement that she’d “broken the record”. He wasn’t the slightest bit dismayed or concerned as he made his statement. He actually sounded kind of proud of himself. None of the staff members tried to stop the arrest, although they did seem rather non-plussed by it.
As horrified as I was by the news story, I was especially shocked as I watched the video. The child is tiny, and Turner is a very large man who had backup. No wonder Kaia was petrified. While I understand that the police have a dangerous job, especially nowadays, it really seems like overkill that such a little girl had to be restrained in that way. There’s no way she was a physical threat to anyone.
When I listen to Kaia speak, I’m surprised by how bright and articulate she is. I can’t imagine, at that age, having the presence of mind to beg a police officer for “a second chance”, or even knowing what zip ties are. I remember seeing little kids meltdown when I was that age. I probably had a few tantrums in school myself. But back in those days, there weren’t “zero tolerance” policies that required arresting small children for age appropriate temper tantrums. When I was a kid, the principal would handle the discipline. Granted, that might mean getting paddled. I don’t necessarily approve of that, either. But at least most young kids had a fighting chance of getting through grade school without a police record.
Fortunately, Dennis Turner has been dismissed from his job, even though Florida has no minimum age for arrest. Turner had violated his department’s policy, which requires officers to get approval from a supervisor before arresting anyone under age 12. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Turner retired from the Orlando Police Department last year, after 23 years on the job. He was employed by the OPD’s Reserve Unit, which is made of retired officers who do part-time work for the agency. However, despite Turner’s long tenure as an Orlando cop, his record as a police officer is troubling. Prior to retiring last year, Turner was disciplined seven times for violating department policies. The complaints ranged from unsafe driving to a child abuse charge involving his own seven-year-old son. In 2009, he was accused of sending threatening text messages to his ex wife. He’s also been accused of racial profiling. What the hell was this man doing on the police force? He should have been fired many years ago!
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised and dismayed that Dennis Turner enjoyed such a long career as a police officer, particularly considering that he was working in Florida. I must admit, though, that reading this story really upset me. I don’t even recognize the United States anymore. It’s turned into a place where there is no more common sense or decency. The police are required for every intervention and it seems like the only response is to arrest people and put them behind bars. It absolutely ridiculous, particularly when an incident involves a small child like Kaia.
Kaia Rolle no longer attends Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy. She now goes to a private school, because she refuses to attend a school with a police officer on campus. I’m sure Kaia is left with a lingering fear of the police, which could turn out to be tragic for her if she ever needs their help. These kids are so young, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. What has happened to our society that we have people wearing badges and carrying weapons, thinking this is an appropriate response to a small child having a temper tantrum at school? It seems like a scary number of Americans have completely lost their sense of humanity and common sense. It makes me glad I don’t have any children.