Video shows girl’s arrest by officers at Orlando school
BY GRACE TOOHEY
ORLANDO – Kaia Rolle was sitting, listening to a school employee read her a story when two officers came in the room to arrest her.
“What are those for?” the 6-year-old girl asked the Orlando police officers.
“They’re for you,” Officer Dennis Turner said about the zip ties, before another officer tightened them around her wrists. Kaia immediately began weeping.
“No … no, don’t put handcuffs on!” she wailed in body camera footage from the arrest, which Kaia’s family shared with the Orlando Sentinel on Monday evening. The arrests of the girl and another 6-year-old at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy in September drew national headlines and widespread condemnation, leading to the officer’s firing.
“Help me, help me, please!” the girl choked out through tears. The officers continued with the arrest. Employees at the Orlando charter school stood by.
After Kaia was placed in a police SUV to be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center, Turner returned to the school’s office and spoke to administrators, who were concerned about Kaia.
He downplayed the juvenile detention center, saying it’s “not like you think.”
He told them he had arrested 6,000 people in his career — the youngest, to that point, was 7. When school employees told him Kaia was 6, not 8 like he thought, he did not seem concerned.
“Now she has broken the record,” he said. Kaia, a first grader at the charter school, had a tantrum earlier in the day where she had kicked and punched three school employees, leading to her arrest on a charge of misdemeanor battery, according to her arrest report.
However, by the time Turner and another officer approached Kaia to detain, cuff and arrest her, the girl had calmed down, the video shows.
Asked for second chance
The school staff member who had been reading to her told Kaia she had to go with the officers, and that her grandmother would pick her up later.
While walking with the officer to the car, Kaia continued to cry, “I don’t wanna go in a police car.”
The second officer, who has not been identified, replied, “You don’t want to? … You have to.”
“Please, give me a second chance,” the girl responded, still crying.
The officers put her in the backseat of the police SUV.
Turner then returned to the school’s office, reminding one employee that he would need a statement from her, and said she would likely get a subpoena. The woman agreed, though she said she was upset.
The arrest report Turner completed said that a member of the school’s faculty, Beverly Stoute, had requested to press charges against Kaia, something the school has denied.
The video does not show any staff member attempting to stop the arrest, though several are obviously rattled.
“The restraints, are they necessary?” one school employee asked. “Yes,” Turner said.
Then, he added: “If she was bigger, she would have been wearing regular handcuffs.”
He then told the school administrators that the youngest person he ever arrested previously was 7 years old, a boy who he had caught stealing at a supermarket.
He said he arrested the boy because he “thought it was a joke” while the other children caught in the act had started crying.
Officials have said that Turner also arrested a 6-year-old boy at Nixon Academy the same day as Kaia for misdemeanor battery in an unrelated incident. However, the boy’s arrest was halted by superiors before the child made it through the full arrest process.
Details about the boy’s arrest have not been made public.
The following day, prosecutors dropped the charge against Kaia.
Orlando Police Department officials have said Turner violated agency policy on arresting children younger than 12, which requires officers to get a supervisor’s approval — something Turner did not do. However, his decision was not illegal as Florida currently does not have a minimum age for arrest.
Meralyn Kirkland, Kaia’s grandmother, said she is hoping that when people watch the footage of her granddaughter’s arrest, they will support a proposal to change that law by making 12 the minimum age for arrest.
She said she would also like to see school resource officers receive more training and preparation, especially to work with young children.
“I knew that what they did was wrong, but I never knew she was begging for help,” Kirkland said in an interview Monday night about the video. “I watched her break.”
The body camera footage still upsets her, Kirkland said, especially when Turner “callously” talks about arresting children.
“You’re discussing traumatizing a 6- and 7-year-old — and that’s a boasting right for you?” she said. “These are babies.”
Kirkland said her granddaughter had sleep apnea, which could cause her to act out in school — a condition Kirkland had repeatedly worked with the school to manage, she said.
Kaia was completely processed at the county Juvenile Assessment Center, where the girl’s mugshot and fingerprints were taken, Kirkland said, adding that employees at the center had to use a step stool so Kaia could reach the camera for the mugshot.
Kaia has since enrolled in a private school, after refusing to attend a school with an officer on campus, Kirkland said. She said she worries about how the trauma from the arrest will affect her granddaughter in years to come.
Turner, who was fired days after the arrest became national news, had worked in OPD’s Reserve Unit, which is made up of retired officers who are required to work a certain amount of hours at the agency per month and can pick up extra-duty jobs for pay.
Over the course of Turner’s 23-year tenure at OPD prior to retiring last year, he was disciplined seven times for violations of department policy that ranged from unsafe driving to a childabuse arrest in which he was accused of injuring his 7-year-old son, record released Tuesday showed.
He was also accused of sending threatening text messages to his ex-wife in 2009 and racial profiling, records show.