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Florida Officer Suspended After Arresting Children, 6 And 8, At Elementary School

A police officer in Florida is under investigation after arresting two children, ages 6 and 8, at an elementary school last week on unrelated charges, officials said.

The Orlando Police Department suspended Dennis Turner pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the officer’s actions Thursday at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy Charter School.

Turner was working as a school resource officer at the charter school, which serves grades K-5, when he arrested the two students without first obtaining a supervisor’s approval, Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón said in a statement. 

Department policy requires an officer to obtain a supervisor’s permission before arresting children under the age of 12.

Police have not released the names or genders of the children and have not provided details about what happened in the lead-up to their arrests.

The transporting officer for the 8-year-old student 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 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.

“As a grandparent of three children less than 11 years old this is very concerning to me,” Rolón said in his statement. 

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.

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.* Only thing the officer did wrong was apparently not get ‘explicit permission’ from his ‘watch commander.’ NO 6 YEAR OLD SHOULD EVER BE APPROACHED BY POLICE LET ALONE ARRESTED. CHANGE THIS LAW.”

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.

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