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Florida First Grader Handcuffed and Arrested at School Two Years Ago Now Suffers from PTSD and Separation Anxiety, Family Says

More than two years after a Florida 6-year-old Black girl was arrested in her school, her family says the child has been diagnosed with PTSD and separation anxiety after being handcuffed by authorities. 

According to CNN, relatives say that the girl has never been the same. 

6-Year-Old Florida Girl Arrested
Meralyn Kirkland (right) recalls the moment she learned her 6-year-old granddaughter, Kaia, had been arrested and taken to juvie after throwing a tantrum at school. (Photo: WKMG / video screenshot)

In 2019, Kaia Rolle, a first grader at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy Charter School in Orlando occupied headlines after an officer took zip-tie handcuffs to restrain her. Orlando Police Officer Dennis Turner used the plastic ties because the child’s wrists were too petite for the standard cuffs.

He was called because Rolle was having a temper tantrum in school. 

The Florida native allegedly screamed at, kicked, and hit school staffers, including one school worker named Beverly Stoute, because was not permitted to wear her sunglasses in class.

The Center for Public Integrity discovered there was more to the story.

Their investigation discovered that the family said Rolle, the 6-year-old, had been suffering from sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids since kindergarten.

Some of her previous teachers and staffers understood the behavioral issues associated with her sleep deprivation and usually “let it play out until she calmed down.”

The organization’s report says that by the time the officer came, Rolle had mellowed out and was quietly sitting in an office with a staffer, per her usual pattern. This is substantiated by Turner’s body camera.

Still, Stoute, according to the police report, wanted to press charges on the child. Stoute has since denied she wanted charges pressed.

When the officer approached, Orlando Police Officer Sergio Ramos, who was working with Turner that day, objected to the detainment strategy and called his sergeant.

Ramos says, “Sarge, this girl is tiny. She looks like a baby.” Rolle at the time was 3 feet 10 inches.

Turner insisted on cuffing the girl as school staffers in the background wiped tears from their eyes. 

The girl begged the official not to take her to jail, crying, “Please — give me a second chance! Please, let me go!”

But he continued to detain her, placing her in his patrol SUV and drove away with her in restraints. She was taken to a juvenile detention center, fingerprinted, had her mugshot taken during processing, and was charged with misdemeanor battery. 

Her charges were dropped the next day.

Turner, the Black arresting officer, was later fired by Orlando Police Department for violating policy by arresting the little girl and another 6-year-old in an unrelated incident at the school on that same day, WESH reports.

While it might have seemed harsh, it was not illegal. In 2019, there was no minimum age for arrest in Florida. Since then, that has changed.

In 2021, Orlando Senator Randolph Bracy and Rolle’s family passed a law that makes it illegal for a child under 7 to be arrested or prosecuted except in the case of a violent felony. Named after Rolle, the law is called The Kaia Rolle Act. 

The child’s grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, has taken the lead with her legal team and the senator to move this legislation. They hope to persuade lawmakers to raise the age of KRA to 12 years old.

During the celebratory day, Kirkland informed the press that Rolle has been traumatized by the ordeal.

“One of Kaia’s greatest fears is that every time she sees a police officer they are coming to arrest her, one of her friends or one of her family members,” Kirkland said. 

“I thought the brunt of the trauma was the day it happened,” she continued, “but I’m finding out day by day it is going to be a long road. Kaia still has night terror, she’ll be up at 3 o’clock in the morning, crying, scared.”

Months after the ceremony, when Rolle actually turned 8 years old, expressed new anxiety, believing that she has aged out of the law that was created to protect children like her, her family says.

And in 2022, it has not gotten any better. Grandma now says that she lives a “solitary lifestyle.”

“Before the incident, Kaia was an awesome young lady. She wanted to hug everybody, she wanted to sing for everybody, she wanted to dance for everybody,” Kirkland told CNN this month. “As a result of the incident, Kaia’s been diagnosed with PTSD, with severe separation anxiety. She almost has a solitary lifestyle right now.”

Experts have diagnosed her oppositional defiance disorder and phobias of simple things like tiny little bugs.

When Rolle speaks about the ordeal in retrospect, she remembers being terrified of the officer. She said, “I was really scared and confused. I said ‘are those police officers for me?’” 

“I feel bad about what happened at the school with the police officer because I think he was being very mean to me,” she said.

Rolle’s case is not an isolated one. 

USA TODAY did a study of federal crime reports and identified more than 2,600 arrests in schools involving kids ages 5 to 9 between 2000 and 2019. 

The publication noted there is a plethora of research that recognizes that harsh punishments are “often applied unfairly to Black children and those with disabilities.”

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