The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaii says Honolulu police handcuffed and arrested a 10-year-old girl in January for drawing an offensive picture of another student.
Now the civil liberties organization and a law firm representing the girl and her mother are demanding reforms from both the Hawaii Department of Education and Honolulu Police Department (HPD) to fix what they say is a clear pattern of misconduct involving school children.
The ACLU and the law firm Caballero Law LLLC are representing Tamara Taylor and her 10-year-old daughter, who is identified only as "N.B." According to those groups, school officials at Honowai Elementary called Taylor on January 10 because another parent demanded that the school report her daughter to the police. N.B. had allegedly participated in drawing an offensive sketch of a student in response to that student bullying her. (What alleged crime the young girl committed by drawing a picture is unclear.)
After she arrived at the elementary school, Taylor says police detained her in a room and did not allow her to leave. Meanwhile, officers interrogated her daughter in another room. The officers then allegedly decided that Taylor's daughter was not taking them seriously enough, handcuffed her, placed her in a squad car, and drove her to the police station, all without allowing her to see or speak to her mother.
Taylor's daughter was not ultimately booked or charged with a crime, but she was held in custody for four hours. Taylor and her daughter have since moved out of Hawaii.
"Although I was at Honowai Elementary, I was not told that my daughter was removed from the premises, handcuffed in front of staff and her peers, placed into a squad car and taken away," Taylor said in an ACLU press release. "I was stripped of my rights as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right to protection and representation as a minor."
The ACLU and Caballero Law accuse the authorities of false imprisonment, racial discrimination, and excessive force. In addition to demanding $500,000 in damages, they are asking the HPD and the Hawaii Department of Education to enact several reforms, such as requiring that a parent or legal guardian be present whenever a minor is interrogated by an officer, and only calling police when a student presents an imminent threat of significant harm to someone.
This is far from the first time a small child has ended up in handcuffs at school. An Orlando school resource officer made national headlines last September when he arrested a 6-year-old girl. In another case last year, body camera footage showed officers in Key West, Florida, trying and failing to handcuff an 8-year-old boy, whose wrists were too small for the cuffs. This year in Colorado, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for allegedly handcuffing an autistic 11-year-old boy and leaving him in the back of a police cruiser for two hours while he banged his head.
In response to such incidents, lawmakers around the country have been introducing legislation to raise the minimum age at which children can be arrested. Twenty-eight states have no minimum age for juvenile delinquency, while others set the bar low. North Carolina's, for instance, is at age 6.
The HPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Hawaii State Department of Education declined to comment, citing pending litigation.