Kaia Rolle was 6 years old when police officers tightly bound her wrists with zip ties and “perp walked” her through the halls of her Florida school in front of teachers, parents and other students, according to her family’s lawsuit, which says she was arrested over having a tantrum.
“No, don’t put handcuffs on,” a tearful Kaia told officers as they placed zip ties around her wrists at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy Charter School in Orlando, Florida, on Sept. 19, 2019, police body camera footage of her arrest published by CBS News shows.
As one officer led her outside the school to a police car, Kaia is heard begging for a second chance and pleading not to be arrested, according to the footage.
After she was detained, she was driven to a juvenile detention center where her mugshot was taken as she stood on a step stool — because she wasn’t tall enough, an amended complaint filed Sept. 18 says.
Kaia’s family is suing over her “cruel, senseless and terrorizing arrest,” which they say was done to “instill fear and humiliation” in the child, on several causes of action, including excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution, according to the amended complaint. The family is seeking $50,000 in damages.
The family initially filed the lawsuit, which names the city of Orlando, the police officers involved in her arrest and their supervisor as defendants, in August 2022.
“It was horrific for us,” Meralyn Kirkland, Kaia’s grandmother, said at a Sept. 18 news conference during which the family announced it is proceeding with the litigation against the city, according to WFTV.
The city declined a request for comment from McClatchy News on Sept. 19, as it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
One of the police officers involved in arresting her, Dennis Turner, the charter school’s former resource officer, was fired by the Orlando Police Department in September 2019, WFTV reported.
“I’ve never seen a child with her hands bound at the age of 6, walked out by a man three times the size of her,” Bobby DiCello, an attorney representing Kaia’s family, said at the news conference.
Now Kaia’s family is calling for changes to be made.
What led to Kaia’s arrest?
Kaia entered first grade during the 2019-20 school year with a medical condition — 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.
After the charter school recruited Kaia to enroll there for first grade, her grandmother informed administrators of Kaia’s condition that could cause her “to act out,” the complaint says.
The school agreed to support Kaia, so her family decided to send her to the charter school, the amended complaint says.
The morning of Sept. 19, 2019, Kaia arrived at school wearing glasses and started to throw a tantrum when a teacher tried taking them from her, according to the complaint.
School resource officer threatens jail, suit says
After school resource officer Turner was called, he warned Kaia that he’d take her to jail if she didn’t “stop misbehaving,” the complaint says.
Before taking Kaia into custody, Turner spoke with Kaia’s grandmother, who pleaded with him not to arrest Kaia and explained how pediatric sleep apnea can affect her behavior, according to the complaint.
“Well I have sleep apnea and I don’t behave like that,” Turner is accused of telling Kaia’s grandmother, the complaint says.
Afterward, Turner contacts Officer Sergio Ramos, who brings zip ties because Kaia’s wrists were too small for handcuffs, according to the complaint.
Then, they took her into custody and ignored her protests, the complaint says.
“I want to stay in school, I just got here,” Kaia begs the officers through tears, the body camera footage shows.
She was charged with a misdemeanor battery — but prosecutors dismissed the charge the day after her arrest, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
‘Kaia is a fighter’
Nearly two years after Kaia’s arrest, the Kaia Rolle Act went into effect in Florida — prohibiting children younger than 7 from being arrested in the state.
At the Sept. 18 news conference, her grandmother said Kaia hopes to increase the minimum arrest age to 14 in Florida and the U.S., according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“Kaia is no longer the Kaia that we knew,” Kirkland said at the news conference. “But Kaia is a fighter, so she continues to fight. She continues to tell us she wants her old life back.”