Police in Schools

Florida Police Officer Fired After Arresting a 6-Year-Old Girl for Throwing a Temper Tantrum

Another example of the school-to-prison pipeline, which mislabels kids as criminals.


[Update: Dennis Turner, the Florida officer who arrested two elementary school children, has been fired. The battery charges against both students have been dropped. Police also clarified that both children arrested were 6-years-old; they originally described one child as 8-years old.]

A 6-year-old girl was arrested at an Orlando, Florida, charter school last week after she threw a temper tantrum and kicked a staff member.

The student—a first grader named Kaia Rolle—was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police cruiser, and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center, where she was fingerprinted and had her mugshot taken.

Meralyn Kirkland, the girl's grandmother, told WKMG that Kaia has sleep apnea and that she informed the officer, Dennis Turner, that the family was working to address it.

"Well, I have sleep apnea, and I don't behave like that," the officer allegedly responded.

The same cop arrested another 6-year-old that day, although the reason has not been disclosed. Both apprehensions violated departmental policy, which stipulates that no minor under age 12 should be arrested without approval from a supervisor.

Turner's actions, while ridiculous, indicate the prevalence of the school-to-prison pipeline, a troubling trend nationwide where zero-tolerance disciplinary procedures are quick to mislabel kids as criminals. Part of the problem involves overly harsh school suspension and expulsion policies, according to the Justice Policy Institute; in recent years, administrators have been increasingly encouraged or required to remove students from school over minor offenses. Just last July, an eighth grader attending school in Maryland was banned from coming to school for three weeks—the remainder of the school year—after he shared a photo of himself on Snapchat in which his friend was holding a disabled Airsoft gun.

The problem isn't isolated. Every second and a half, a public school student in the U.S. is suspended.

But excessive in-school punishments are just one of the many factors contributing to the pipeline. The increased presence of resource officers—law enforcement officials who are posted at schools for crime prevention—has also played a major role, with those schools pushing disciplinary duties onto the police. As was the case in Orlando, such interactions often end in an arrest, even when the underlying offense didn't merit one. Schools with officers have five times as many arrests as those that don't, even when controlling for poverty level.

Minority students are disproportionately more likely to fall into the pipeline: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times higher than their white peers. And those who do find themselves kicked out of school for a discretionary violation are about three times more likely to enter the confines of the juvenile justice system by the following year.