Florida lawmakers rally behind 6-year-old arrested at school
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers rallied behind a 6-year-old girl who was zip-tied at school and arrested last fall, when the state House on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure requiring law enforcement authorities to put procedures in place for arresting children under age 10.
The child’s family last month made public footage from the officer’s body camera public, intensifying outrage among the public and lawmakers over the arrest.
The video showed the crying young girl asking for someone to help her and pleading with the arresting officer for “a second chance.”
The child, Kaia Rolle, watched from the gallery of the Florida House with her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, as lawmakers stood with her in solidarity and approved the legislation.
“Asking for a second chance is a universal principle that is found at the core of our existence here in this country,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee, the Democratic leader in the House. McGhee sponsored the measure in his chamber.
The legislation, an amendment dubbed the “Kaia Rolle Act,” was folded into a school safety bill spawned by the Parkland high school shooting.
Asserting that there were too many young children being arrested at schools, McGhee told fellow lawmakers it was “incumbent upon us at this very moment, at this very hour, to answer the call that young Kaia rendered when she was being arrested.
“The first call she said was, ‘Please, help me,’” McGhee said. “Young Kaia, I want you to know that this body has heard you.”
The sponsor of the original bill, Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo, drew applause from Democrats when he called McGhee’s change a “friendly” one.
The amendment was adopted unanimously before its host bill also secured the approval of House members.
Outside the chamber floor, Kirkland expressed appreciation for the overwhelming support.
“I needed people to know that there is this law in the books that allows our babies to be arrested. It was not a one-off with Kaia. It can happen to any child and any family out there, and that we needed to make a change.”
Change could come soon, although the Senate would also have to approve the measure.
“We just can’t just sit here and sympathize and empathize, or send love or send our regrets,” Kirkland said. “We’ve got to do something to stop this.”
The outrage began in September when officers arrested the girl after officials at her charter school, Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy, said she kicked and punched staff members. She was charged with misdemeanor battery and ordered to appear before a judge. However, the charges were dropped.
The officer, Dennis Turner, a member of the Orlando Police reserves, was fired shortly after the incident. Police Chief Orlando Rolon said at the time that the officer did not first get the approval of a watch commander before arresting the girl, as department policy required.
In the video, Kaia is seen and heard asking about the zip ties.
“What are those for?” she asks.
“They’re for you,” Turner responds before tightening them around the child’s wrists.
“Help me. Help me, please!” Kaia then pleads through sobs.
“Please, give me a second chance,” she said as she was escorted to a police car.