Florida Officer Fired After Arresting Two 6-Year-Olds At Elementary School

Meralyn Kirkland says her granddaughter was handcuffed and fingerprinted after throwing a tantrum in class.

A police officer in Orlando, Florida, was fired Monday after arresting two children, both 6 years old, at an elementary school last week on unrelated charges, officials said.

The Orlando Police Department fired Dennis Turner and is carrying out an internal investigation into the officer’s actions Thursday at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy Charter School, said Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón at a news conference late Monday.

Turner was working as a school resource officer at the charter school, which is kindergarten through fifth grade, when he arrested the two students without first obtaining a supervisor’s approval, Rolón said earlier in a statement. 

“To be honest with you, I was sick to my stomach when I heard this,” Rolón said at the news conference, noting he has three young grandchildren. He added that he could “only imagine how traumatic” the incident was and “could not fathom the idea of a 6-year-old being put in the back of a police car.” (Police had initially said the children were 6 and 8 but corrected the ages in the later news conference.)

Department policy requires an officer to obtain a supervisor’s permission before arresting children younger than 12. Rolón said Monday that after the incident officers had received a special notice reminding them of the policy. 

Police did not release the names or genders of the children and had not provided details Monday about what preceded the arrests.

The transporting officer for one of the 6-year-olds was unaware Turner hadn’t received proper approval to arrest the child, who was processed through a juvenile facility and released to a relative soon after, according to police.

The other 6-year-old, identified as Kaia Rolle by her grandmother Meralyn Kirkland, was returned to the school after the transporting officer confirmed Turner did not get a supervisor’s permission to arrest her, police said.

Turner did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy declined to comment for this story.

Kirkland told local CBS affiliate WKMG-TV that she was shocked and horrified when she was notified of her granddaughter’s arrest Thursday. She said Kaia was handcuffed, put into the back of a police car and charged with battery after she threw a tantrum in class and kicked a school staffer.

“She has a medical condition that we’re working on getting resolved,” Kirkland said she told Turner. “So he says, ‘What medical condition?’ So I said ... ‘She has a sleep disorder, sleep apnea.’ He says, ‘Well, I have sleep apnea and I don’t behave like that.’”

Kirkland said her granddaughter was fingerprinted and had a mug shot taken before she was returned to the school. Kaia said she felt sad and missed her grandmother during the ordeal.

“No 6-year-old child should be able to tell somebody that they had handcuffs on them and they were riding in the back of a police car,” Kirkland told WKMG-TV through tears. 

Turner, a veteran of the Orlando Police Department, was charged with aggravated child abuse in 1998 after officials found welts and bruises on his 7-year-old son, the Orlando Sentinel reported. He was suspended at the time pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The police department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the results of that investigation. Rolón confirmed in the Monday news conference that there was an “incident” in the officer’s “personal life” involving his child years ago. He said the officer was still hired based on their investigation and he’d provide further details in the future.

Turner has a history of performance issues, including a 1996 citation for “substandard performance” after he lost a suspect’s wallet and an excessive force complaint for stunning a man five times with a Taser in 2016, according to the Sentinel.

The arrests prompted outrage among parents and community activists, with many calling for Turner to lose his job. Others say firing him isn’t enough and that the laws must be changed so other young children won’t face similar situations in the future.

“Outraged that a cop arrested a 6 year old?” tweeted Scott Hechinger, director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services. “Know this: *Florida Law allows it.*

As The Washington Post pointed out, students from marginalized communities are disproportionately punished in schools.

Black students represented 15% of the total student enrollment during the 2015-2016 school year but made up 31% of the students referred to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests, according to a recent report from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

This article’s headline and story have been updated based on new information from Orlando police in a news conference late Monday.