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School resource officer fired after arresting two 6-year-olds

Per department policy, officers are required to receive approval from a manager before arresting anyone under the age of 12.
Officer Dennis Turner is the subject of an internal affairs investigation after he arrested two elementary school students late last week without his watch commander’s approval.
Officer Dennis Turner is the subject of an internal affairs investigation after he arrested two elementary school students late last week without his watch commander’s approval. [ Orlando Police Department ]
Published Sept. 23, 2019|Updated Sept. 25, 2019

A retired Orlando Police Department officer was fired after he arrested two elementary school students late last week without his watch commander’s approval.

Officer Dennis Turner, working as a school resource officer at a charter school in Orlando, arrested two 6-year-olds on misdemeanor charges in separate incidents Thursday.

Under department policy, "any child under the age of 12 requires that a manager approve the arrest,” public information officer Sgt. David Baker said. “And that was not done in this case.”

“As Chief of Police, one of my top priorities is the trust between the community and our officers and because of this incident that trust has been put in question,” Chief Orlando Rolon said Monday. "Officer Turner was immediately suspended and as of this morning is no longer employed by the Orlando Police Department.

"On behalf of the entire Orlando Police Department, I apologize to the children involved and their families. As a grandfather, I can understand how traumatic this was for everyone involved.

“Additionally, I have taken steps to ensure this does not occur in the future. On Friday, I issued a special notice to the entire department, reminding our officers that policy clearly prohibits the arrest of a juvenile without a manager’s approval. Moving forward, I will personally be delivering this message to all officers.”

Meralyn Kirkland, the grandmother of one of the 6-year-olds, told TV station News 6 in Orlando she was shocked when she received a call saying her granddaughter had been arrested at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy.

Kirkland told the TV station her granddaughter has sleep apnea and was acting out in class due to a lack of sleep. She was sent to the office, where she kicked a staff member who grabbed her wrists in order to calm her down, according to the grandmother.

Turner didn’t accept Kirkland’s explanation for her granddaughter’s behavior, she said.

“Well, I have sleep apnea,” Kirkland said Turner told her, “and I don’t behave like that.”

Turner, who retired in 2018, had been working as part of the police department’s reserve unit, picking up off-duty shifts as a school resource officer. He collects a pension but is no longer employed full-time by the city. He had been suspended from his duties as a reserve officer pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Baker said.

Turner no longer has a police vehicle, so he called a transport officer to drive the first student to the Juvenile Assessment Center to be processed, Baker said. A short time later, a second officer was called to transport the second student. Concerned that the arrest might not have been approved, that officer called her supervisor, who told her to turn around and drive the child back to the school, Baker said.

The second student was never processed, fingerprinted or photographed, according to Baker. The arrest was halted as soon as a supervisor became aware of the situation, and the student never actually arrived at the Juvenile Assessment Center.

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The first student was processed, then released to a family member a short time later, according to a statement from Chief Orlando Rolon. The police department is working with the state attorney’s office “to, in some way, correct the situation” with the student, Baker said. He added that the department “is not seeking going forward with any criminal charges.”

Baker could not speculate about the circumstances under which a watch commander might approve the arrest of a child under 12. It is handled on a “case-by-case basis," he said.

Said Kirkland to News 6, “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.

“How do you do that to a 6-year-old child, and because she kicked somebody?"