By Ben Robinson and Joseph Belko
Last week body camera footage surfaced documenting the arrest of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle by Orlando police officers Dennis Turner and Sergio Ramos on September 19, 2019. Kaia had been arrested on charges of “misdemeanor battery” at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy when she had a tantrum after being grabbed by her wrists by school staff.
Florida has no minimum age requirement for arrests, and is one of the leading states in detaining and arresting children. Turner was fired soon after Kaia’s arrest due to public outrage after the incident was publicized by the media, while Ramos remains on duty.
The beginning of the video shows Kaia sitting calmly in a classroom before being told that she must go with the police officers. Turner binds her wrists with a zip tie, and after being asked by staff if the restraints were necessary he states that if “she was bigger, she would have been wearing regular handcuffs.” He brags that he has arrested over 6,000 people throughout his career, callously joking to school employees that Kaia had “broken the record” for his youngest arrest after being informed that she was only six-years-old.
Turner had attempted to arrest another six-year-old child on the same day at a different school, but was stopped; he did not turn on his body camera during that attempt.
The gutwrenching footage shows Kaia sobbing while she’s walked out of the school. She pleads with officers that she ‘didn’t want go in the police car,’ and Officer Ramos mockingly replies, “You don’t want to? You have to.” Kaia loudly cries for help as she is hauled away to the police SUV, however, no school employees or teachers are seen trying to intervene. As Ramos lifts her into the car, she cries, “Please let me go,” and “Help me.” At the Juvenile Assessment Center, Kaia was fingerprinted, and had to stand on a stool to have her mugshot taken.
The video was released to the media by the attorneys representing Kaia and her family. Her grandmother Meralyn Kirkland reported that Kaia now has nightmares as a result of the incident. She is afraid that the arrest had a traumatic effect on Kaia and denounced that way children are scarred by police “before they even have a chance to grow up.”
Turner has arrested children many times before in his 23 years working for the Orlando Police Department (OPD). He had previously retired from the department, but became a member of the OPD’s Active Reserve Unit in 2018, in which retired officers accept extra assignments, often at schools.
The unit was created to “plug staffing gaps,” after the Majory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting, which spurred legislation requiring an armed officer on every public school campus. The members of the unit are approved by the police chief, although at least five have their own criminal records, including stalking, tazing a handcuffed man, and fraud.
Police Chief Orlando Rolón praises the Reserve Unit program for “supplementing the demand for […] officers to work for the private sector,” and Reserve Unit Chief Deputy Ross Wolf considers the unit “one of the most professional, well-trained volunteer policing units in the country.”
As ‘volunteers’ in the Reserve Unit, Turner and Ramos are paid at least $32 an hour for security shifts and have all the same powers as a regular officer. Turner has a history of using excessive force and violence against children. In 1998, he was arrested on child abuse charges after beating his own seven-year-old child, but was only suspended for 16 hours and ultimately retired in good standing. Despite his record, Police Chief Orlando Rolón hired Turner and posted him to work at schools, only firing him because this incident came to light.
Officers at schools commonly use violent tactics to subdue students and only face reprimand when the incidents are highly publicized in the form of online videos or media reports.
The police and the state will attempt to paint Turner as an exception, but the practice of police violence against children, in particular Black and working class youth, is not isolated. Merely firing officers, hiring different ones, or changing policies will not stop police brutality so long as the imperialist state which perpetuates it continues.
While the presence of armed police at schools has largely been framed as a protective measure against potential mass shooters, these police are infinitely more likely to repress the students than protect them. The case of six-year-old Kaia exposes the way that schools train youth, especially in Black and working-class communities, to submit to state authority at an extremely young age under the threat of violence and arrest.