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Mom moving girl in video out of Florida

After an appearance on A Current Affair and interest from the Rev. Al Sharpton, the child has been removed from Pinellas schools.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published April 26, 2005


[Image from television]
Inga Akins, 24, fired her lawyer after he released the video of her daughter's arrest to the St. Petersburg Times.

View QuickTime videos:
Click for video from the kindergarten classroom
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Superintendent Wilcox invites your comments
Letters to the Editor

ST. PETERSBURG - The mother of the 5-year-old girl who was handcuffed at school by police has withdrawn her daughter from Pinellas public schools and is moving out of state, superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Monday night.

The development was the latest in a bizarre saga that began Friday, when a videotape of the handcuffing was made public.

Since then, wrenching video images of the wailing kindergartener being handcuffed by St. Petersburg police have raced around the globe, airing and re-airing on television news shows in the United States, Great Britain, Spain, around Asia and beyond.

On Monday morning, the Largo lawyer representing the girl's mother appeared on five network news shows. He returned wearily to his office to find a fax from the mother, 24-year-old Inga Akins, stating he had been fired. The fax had been sent from the tabloid TV show A Current Affair, on which the mother appeared Friday and Monday.

Also on Monday came the prospect that the Rev. Al Sharpton would be coming to town. The famous New York crusader and one-time presidential candidate is intrigued and considering weighing in on the episode, his staff said.

"Instantly he felt that it smelled bad, but he wants to research it first," said his spokeswoman Rachel Nordlinger. "It could be a case of police brutality or a case of her civil rights being violated."

Wilcox had no further information on Akins' move to pull the girl out of school. She was handcuffed at Fairmount Park Elementary on March 14 and transferred to another public school after the incident.

Wilcox said he found out about her leaving the system when he asked his staff Monday how she was doing in the new school.

A call to Akins' cell phone went unreturned Monday night.

Pinellas County records show that a St. Petersburg apartment complex where she lived moved to evict her on March 31, about two weeks after the handcuffing that put her daughter's face on TV screens across he world.

Wilcox said the girl had been out of school since Thursday.

John Trevena, who had been serving as the attorney for Akins, said he learned from an executive producer at A Current Affair that the girl and her mother traveled to New York City over the weekend, where they stayed at the show's expense.

The case of the handcuffed little girl was the top story on the tabloid program Monday night, with images of the girl smelling a flower and running through a park laughing.

The show interviewed a child psychologist who said the handcuffing might be racially motivated. A Current Affair also said the girl "had to flee her home to escape the media."

The show blamed Trevena's release of the video to major media outlets last week, including the St. Petersburg Times . The lawyer said a producer from the show "raged" at him last Friday, saying the release of the video violated an exclusive agreement between Akins and A Current Affair.

Trevena said he had been unaware of any agreement.

The show made no mention of its part in the media frenzy that has followed the video.

A Current Affair clearly communicated it had every intention of running the videotape, Trevena said. He also said the show interviewed Akins and her daughter only days after the handcuffing incident.

On Friday, a few hours after the video began screaming across the world, the show announced to the media that it had an exclusive.

It sent out a news release titled: "Five-year-old African American girl handcuffed by three police officers. A Current Affair gets first national look at incident on tape."

The program Monday evening did not disclose on air how much it had paid Akins for the story. When asked what the sum was Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the show laughed at the question. She said there would be no comment on the story.

Trevena called the program's actions "highly unethical and possibly illegal." He said he was concerned that his client was in New York discussing the case with another party without legal advice.

The videotape shows the girl defying an assistant principal and another school staff member as she tore items off walls and swung at the educators.

Later, it shows the girl in the assistant principal's office tearing items off a bulletin board, climbing on a table and swinging at the assistant principal numerous times.

The video ends after about 28 minutes with the girl crying as three St. Petersburg police officers place her in handcuffs.

The girl had a history of problems at the school, though the full extent is not known because student records are not public.

District officials have discussed an incident several weeks before the handcuffing in which a city police officer was called to the school because of a behavior problem with the girl. The officer said something to her about the possibility of being handcuffed if her behavior continued.

Akins later objected to that conversation, part of an ongoing feud with the school over her daughter's treatment.

District officials say the video started as an exercise by the girl's teacher to improve her craft in the classroom. But they acknowledge that the girl's history may have played a part in the decision to keep the camera rolling that day.

Though city police are being harshly criticized for their role in the incident, the department declined Wednesday to elaborate on the rationale for the handcuffing, citing a pending investigation.

Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said the department stood by a statement made in mid March, which was that department policy allows the handcuffing of minors in certain situations.

How did an incident that received mild attention in March blossom into a worldwide phenomenon five weeks later?

The video, said Matthew Felling, media director at The Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

"It's not necessarily about the little girl, it's about the visceral nature of it," he said. "Is it compelling? Yes. Is it emotional porn? Yes. Is it internationally relevant news? No."

He said too many media outlets had been airing only part of the video, which is about 28 minutes long.

"This story is driven by 10 seconds of footage - two seconds of the tantrum and eight seconds of handcuffing," he said. "Completely taken out of context, but that is the media's way."

[Last modified April 26, 2005, 05:24:48]


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