“On behalf of myself and the entire Orlando Police Department, I apologize to the children involved and their families,” Rolón said during a news conference Monday. “As a grandfather of three children less than 11 years old, I can only imagine how traumatic this was for everyone involved.”
Turner did not respond to a request for comment early Tuesday.
Police declined to identify the two children who were arrested or disclose details about their cases, only noting that the young boy and girl were both charged with misdemeanor battery in separate events. In an initial statement released over the weekend, officials had incorrectly said the boy was 8 years old.
The charges against the children have been dropped and state attorney Aramis D. Ayala said Monday that her office never intended to prosecute.
“I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline at any age,” Ayala said. “These very young children are to be protected, nurtured and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system to do it.”
Rolón said the police department was shocked that the arrests happened at all, noting that an internal investigation into Turner’s actions is still ongoing.
“I was sick to my stomach when I heard this,” he said. “We were all appalled. We could not fathom the idea of a 6-year-old being put in the back of a police car.”
Neither could Meralyn Kirkland, who told WKMG on Friday that her granddaughter, Kaia Rolle, was one of the children involved. She said she could hardly process the call she received Thursday informing her that the little girl was going to be taken to a juvenile facility.
“I say, ‘What do you mean she was arrested?’ ” Kirkland said.
There was “an incident,” she recalled the caller saying — Kaia “kicked somebody and she’s being charged.”
Prosecutors said Monday that they intervened before either of the children were taken to a juvenile detention center. But the 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.
Kirkland told WKMG that Kaia attends the Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy, a charter school within the Orange County Public Schools district. A spokeswoman with the district told The Post that Florida charter schools operate independently. The school administrators could not be reached for comment late Sunday.
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, Kirkland said. 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,” Kirkland said she told Turner. “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.’ ”
Kaia was arrested and charged, Kirkland said.
But the officer responsible for transporting Kaia confirmed that the proper approval hadn’t been obtained and she was returned to school before being processed at the juvenile facility, police said.
The 6-year-old boy, who was also arrested Thursday, was processed and released to a family member not long after. It is not clear what led to the child’s arrest.
Turner spent 23 years as a police officer in Orlando before retiring in June 2018, according to the department. Early on in his career, Turner was arrested and charged with abusing his 7-year-old son, the Orlando Sentinel reported at the time. Rolón said Monday that Turner was disciplined following an internal investigation. Turner was also 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 a 2016 report from the Sentinel.
Police said Turner was 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 urged the Orlando Police Department to review its policy regarding minors.
@OrlandoPolice officer Dennis Turner arrested a 6yo girl - a six-year-old girl - for having the emotions of a six-year-old. (He didn’t even bother to get the necessary permission, though why anyone needs to arrest a 6yo is beyond me.) Let’s see what Orlando police do. https://t.co/30dLQO2gNT— Matt Hinkley (@hinkleystomp) September 22, 2019
On Monday, Ayala echoed the calls for change.
“We must explore better options as a state,” she said. “We must raise the expectations of how we respond in difficult situations. This is not a reflection of the children, but more a reflection of a broken system that is in need of reform.”
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. During the 2017-2018 school year, almost 45 percent of all public schools had either a full-time or part-time school resource officer, according to a federal report released by the National Center for Education Statistics in July.
In recent years, however, 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 it 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 disproportionately punished.
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.
On Friday, Kirkland struggled to hold back tears as she described Kaia’s ordeal to WKMG. Sitting nearby on a couch, the 6-year-old soothed her grandmother.
“Don’t cry,” said the little girl dressed in a light blue polo shirt and a navy skirt. A matching blue bow adorned the top of her head.