Officer Suspended After Arresting First-Grader. His Behavior Is Part of a Pattern.

Orlando, Florida, school resource officer Dennis Turner (left) and first grader Kaia Rolle (right), whom Turner arrested last week.
Orlando, Florida, school resource officer Dennis Turner (left) and first-grader Kaia Rolle (right), whom Turner arrested last week. Photo: Orlando Police Department; News6

Dennis Turner, a former Orlando, Florida, police officer working as a school resource officer at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, a charter school in the city, was suspended over the weekend after he arrested a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old in two separate disciplinary incidents last week. On Thursday, Meralyn Kirkland received a phone call from the school saying her 6-year-old granddaughter, Kaia Rolle, had kicked a staff member and been arrested and charged with battery, she told local TV station WKMG. “No 6-year-old child should be able to tell somebody that they had handcuffs on them and they were riding in the back of a police car and taken to a juvenile center to be fingerprinted, mug shot,” Kirkland said.

Rolle, who is black, was returned to the school without being processed, according to Orlando police chief Orlando Rolón. Neither the name nor the gender of the 8-year-old arrested the same day has been disclosed, nor have details about the incident that led to the arrest. The Reserve Officer Program, which is composed of former Orlando police and employs Officer Turner, requires a supervisor to approve the arrest of any child under 12 years old. Turner did not seek that approval and is now being investigated. “As a grandparent of three children less than 11 years old, this is very concerning to me,” Rolón said, according to the New York Times.

Officer Turner, who is also black and was hired by Orlando PD in 1995, has at least two violent incidents on his record, both on and off duty. In 1998, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 7-year-old son after the child came home from school with a “bad report card,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. Officials found welts and bruises on the boy’s arms and chest, and Turner was suspended from the department pending an investigation but the resolution of the case is unclear. He denied the charges. “Don’t let this stop you from disciplining your children,” he said in an interview at the time. The Sentinel also reported that the department gave Turner a written reprimand in 2015 after he had Tased a suspect five times, including twice while the man lay prone on the ground. At the time, the report found, Orlando police used force during arrests more frequently than many similar-size cities, including Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Norfolk, Virginia. The city of Orlando paid out $940,000 to resolve excessive-force lawsuits and claims involving its police that year.

The misconduct of police officers in America’s schools has drawn national scrutiny of late, especially in the treatment of black children. School resource officer Ben Fields was fired in 2015 after he was captured on cell-phone video throwing a black teenage girl to the ground and dragging her across a classroom in Richland County, South Carolina. A pair of Chicago police officers were similarly captured on surveillance video in April dragging a black 16-year-old girl down the stairs of her school and punching and Tasing her. The month prior, The Daily Beast outed a school resource officer in Chesterfield, Virginia, as a member of the white-nationalist organization Identity Evropa; Daniel Morley was tasked with instructing recruits on how to hide their racist views from the public by using misleading language.

Black children in kindergarten through 12th grade are more likely than their peers to be disciplined in public schools — with little regard for their share of the student body at a given school; the poverty rate among the students; whether the school is a magnet, a charter, or otherwise specialized; or what type of punishment is being applied (in-school or out-of-school suspension, referral to law enforcement, or corporal punishment). Kirkland told reporters her granddaughter was acting out last week due to sleep apnea, a medical condition that makes her nights restless and that the family is trying to resolve. Kirkland added that when Officer Turner was made aware of the child’s sleep disorder, he replied, “Well, I have sleep apnea, and I don’t behave like that.” That the behavior of an adult man and a first-grader learning how to regulate her emotions is an absurd comparison seems to escape the officer, which is especially ironic given his own alleged history of abusing his son. The incident demonstrates nevertheless that using violent law enforcement during disciplinary incidents involving black children remains a strong impulse. There’s little mystery as to why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world — and a profoundly racist one, at that — given the willingness among some of its officials to treat first-graders like public-safety threats.

The Arrest of a 6-Year-Old in Orlando Echoes a Trend