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Lawsuit filed over 2005 Pinellas school handcuff incident



Handcuffs Nearly four years after the incident made international news, the mother of a former St. Petersburg kindergartener who was videotaped throwing a violent temper tantrum in class and then being handcuffed by police has filed suit against the School Board and hired high-powered attorney Willie Gary.

The girl, now 8, was "severely traumatized" by the incident and will need long-term therapy, says the 17-page lawsuit filed March 12 in Pinellas Circuit Court by the girl's mother, Inga Akins, 27. The Times is not naming the girl because of her age.

The suit accuses the Pinellas County School Board and Fairmount Park Elementary of negligence, malicious prosecution and a civil rights violation. It seeks more than $15,000 in damages.

"As a result of this incident, (the girl) is petrified about attending school, is afraid of law enforcement officers, has been severely traumatized and suffers from fear and anxiety," the suit says. The girl "has a permanent impairment related to the situation with the police and will require continuing long-term therapy and neurodiagnostic testing."

The videotape shows the girl making a mess in the classroom, stomping on a desk and throwing punches at assistant principal Nicole DiBenedetto, who repeatedly tells the girl to stop and that her actions are "not acceptable." It also shows St. Petersburg police officers sternly telling the girl to calm down before standing her up, putting her arms behind her back and putting on handcuffs.

The girl screams as the tape ends.

The suit accuses the district of not having proper procedures in place for dealing with disciplinary problems and not properly training employees to handle such cases:

"Instead of taking measures to calm (the girl) down, school officials evacuated the classroom" and left her alone with DiBenedetto, it says. That caused the girl to become "more upset because she was extremely frightened of Ms. DiBenedetto" due to an undisclosed, earlier incident in January.

Ron Matus, State Education Reporter


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:19am]


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