The Orlando Police Department is currently investigating actions taken by Dennis Turner, the school resource officer who arrested Kaia and an 8-year-old student in separate events on the same day last week. According to the policy, any arrests of minors under the age of 12 needs approval from a supervisor, which police say Turner did not obtain.
Unfair school treatment towards children of color
Their arrests have renewed scrutiny on policing in schools, which advocates and studies say often unfairly targets students of color and those with disabilities, landing the young people in handcuffs for routine misbehavior.
Meralyn Kirkland, the grandmother of 6-year old Kaia, told WKMG that her granddaughter attends the Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy and that Kaia’s arrest came after the little girl had a tantrum in class because her sleep apnea prevented her from getting enough rest the night before.
The episode resulted in a trip to the office, where a school staffer tried to grab Kaia’s wrists to calm her down — prompting her to kick back, she said.
“She has a medical condition that we’re working on getting resolved,” “So he says, ‘What medical condition?’ 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 she told Turner.
Kaia was arrested and charged with battery, Kirkland said, an act that apparently did not receive approval, thus being returned to school before being processed at the juvenile facility, police said.
The 8-year-old, who was also arrested on Thursday, was processed and released to a family member not long after. It is not clear what led to the child’s arrest.
The police officer has had previous trouble due to using excessive force
Turner spent 23 years as a police officer in Orlando before retiring in June 2018, according to the department. In 2016, Turner was issued a written reprimand for excessive force after he Tasered a man five times, jolting the suspect twice when he was already on the floor and no longer resisting, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Police said he is assigned to the Reserve Officer Program, which reportedly consists of retired officers.
The arrests of the two children sparked widespread outrage as some critics demanded that Turner be disciplined or fired, while others called for the Orlando Police Department to change its policy regarding minors.
Rising number in misconduct arrests
School resource officers have become fixtures nationwide in the post-Columbine era, charged with protecting students from mass shootings, gangs and drugs, among other threats. But apparently, during the past years, criminal justice advocates have raised concerns that in-school officers often criminalize common student misbehavior that has traditionally been handled by teachers or school administrators.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that schools with a resource officer had fewer arrests for weapons and assault charges, but described the number of disorderly conduct arrests as “troubling.”
“For most youth, especially those from lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, education is an invaluable resource to insure a brighter future,” the study said. “To deny them an education because of a minor classroom disturbance or hallway disruption is unacceptable, unfair, and may permanently limit their prospects for a better life.”
Critics have also pointed to data showing that students from marginalized communities are being punished a lot more severely and with a lot more ease.
Black students represented 15 percent of the total student enrollment during the 2015-2016 school year, according to a recent report from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. But they made up 31 percent of the students referred to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests, the report said. Similarly, students with disabilities made up 12 percent of overall enrollment and 28 percent of those referred or arrested.