The family of a six-year-old girl has filed a lawsuit against Florida police for “cruel, senseless and terrorizing arrest” after she was restrained with zip ties and perp-walked out of her school.
Kaia Rolle’s family initially filed the lawsuit in August 2022 against the city of Orlando, the police officers involved in the arrest and their supervisor.
An amended lawsuit was filed on 18 September, naming the same defendants, which outlines details of the day of her arrest and Kaia’s medical history.
Body camera footage published by The Orlando Sentinel captured Kaia’s arrest on 19 September 2019 at her school, Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, after police were called in over her “misbehaving”. The video shows the six-year-old at first confused as to what the officers were doing.
“What are those for?” she asks, looking at the zip ties the officers had brought into the school office.
“It’s for you,” one officer responds.
As he ties them on, she sobs: “No, don’t put handcuffs on. Help me!”
She continues to cry and plead “help me” as the officers walk her through the school halls and then lift her into a police car parked outside.
In their amended lawsuit complaint, Kaia’s family say the arrest was done to “instil fear and humiliation” in the child, by using excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.
“I’ve never seen a child with her hands bound at the age of six, walked out by a man three times the size of her,” said Bobby DiCello, an attorney representing Kaia’s family in the case.
They are seeking $50,000 in compensation for Kaia’s suffering and her medical expenses.
Kaia started first grade with pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, that “prevents (her) from sleeping through the night, causing irritability and strong temper tantrums brought on by severe exhaustion,” the amended complaint says.
The school allegedly said they would support Kaia while she attended the school after her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, told administrators that her condition could cause her to “act out,” the lawsuit said.
The charter school enrolled students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
On the morning before her arrest, Kaia started to act out after a teacher tried to take away glasses that she arrived at school wearing, the complaint said.
Because of this, the school’s reform officer Dennis Turner told Kaia that he would take her to jail if she didn’t “stop misbehaving.”
Mr Turner spoke to Kaia’s grandmother, pleaded with the officer to not arrest her and tried to explain that it was her sleep apnea that was making her misbehave, the lawsuit states.
“Well I have sleep apnea and I don’t behave like that,” Mr Turner allegedly said.
Mr Turner was fired by the Orlando Police Department in September 2019 after the incident.
He had been working for the police force for 23 years up until June 2018. He then joined the Reserve Officer Program, which is made up of retired officers.
In 2019, the police department required officers to get a supervisor’s approval when arresting anyone under the age of 12, yet Mr Turner did not.
He also arrested a six-year-old boy in an unrelated incident at the school on the same day as Kaia, according to The New York Times.
Officer Sergio Ramos was also named in the lawsuit, as he was the one who bought the zip ties to handcuff Kaia.
Kaia was charged with a misdemeanour battery and had to stand on a stool for a mugshot because she was too small. The charges against her were dropped the next day by prosecutors.
Now, four years on, the family still want justice over what happened to Kaia at six years old, as her grandmother has said she has never fully recovered from the incident.
“This is a lifelong mission of recovery for Kaia,” she said. “This should not happen.”
“We shouldn’t be putting handcuffs on six-year-olds,” Dr Chris Curran, the director of the University of Florida Educational Policy Research Center said. “There’s almost no situation in which that is an appropriate response.”
In 2021, legislation in Florida was passed named the ‘Kaia Rolle Act’ to amend the law, prohibiting children younger than seven from being arrested or charged, with the exception of a forcible felony.
Kaia’s family and the Southern Poverty Law Center fought for this change, however, the family says the age limit should be raised further to at least 14.