Executive summary of police department investigation
The following is a transcript of a St. Petersburg Police Department report on an investigation into the handcuffing of a Fairmount Elementary School kindergartener in March 2005.
By ST. PETERSBURG POLICE DOCUMENTS
Published August 4, 2005
St. Petersburg Police Department
Allegation: Inefficiency / Conduct Unbecoming an Employee
Employees: Officer Mark Williams, Officer Nicholas Lazzari
Date: Aug. 4, 2005
Location Occurred: Fairmount Elementary School, 575 41st St. S
This investigation centered around multiple police contacts with 5-year-old Ja'Eisha Scott, who attends Fairmount Elementary School. It was alleged by her mother that on two separate occasions, March 8 and March 14, 2005, her daughter was improperly detained and handcuffed. She also alleges she complained about the handcuffing the first time to both the school officials and Officer Williams and cannot understand why he would handcuff her a second time.
On March 8, 2005, Ja'Eisha engaged in inappropriate conduct in her classroom. An attempt was made by school staff to contact her mother and grandmother to respond to the school, but neither of them were immediately available to respond. The staff contacted Pinellas County Schools police and attempted to get them to respond as Ja'Eisha was becoming more disruptive. They had no one immediately available to respond, and the St. Petersburg Police Department was contacted to respond. The Communications Center processed the call, but before it was dispatched, a patrol supervisor was contacted, and the supervisor appropriately canceled the call. The school was recontacted and was advised police would not be responding. Historically, the Pinellas County Schools police would handle all calls for service at public elementary schools if the call did not involve drugs, weapons or other similar situations.
Officer Williams and his probationary officer, Officer Amanda Westerman, had been to the school the previous day on an unrelated matter. Officer Westerman had left a business card with her cell phone number on it as it related to the case on the previous day. It appears there was some frustration felt by the school staff in that they were not getting assistance from parents, police or the school system. Someone decided to use the cell phone number to contact Officer Williams directly and ask him to come to the school. Officer Williams had previously demonstrated an interest in helping the students at Fairmount Elementary, which is highly commendable. School staff asked Officer Williams to speak with Ja'Eisha because he had previously been effective in speaking with another student. Officer Williams did meet with Ja'Eisha later in the day on March 8, 2005.
He showed her his badge and handcuffs to help establish that he was a police officer. Ja'Eisha was apparently unresponsive to his initial conversation about good choices and bad choices. He moved toward her with the handcuffs while pushing the pawl, which caused them to ratchet. Although he did this with no apparent malice and with the best of intentions, it is improper. This approach is far different than showing children the handcuffs during a show-and-tell presentation. The preponderance of information indicates Ja'Eisha was not actually handcuffed on March 8, 2005. Her statement alleging that she was handcuffed is not supported by her subsequent actions or the observations made by adults. However, there is no independent witness to say if she was actually handcuffed or not. Officer Williams did speak directly with her mother on March 9, 2005, and told her he did not handcuff Ja'Eisha.
On March 14, 2005, Officers Nicholas Lazzari and Joshua Hanes were dispatched to a "Disorderly Juvenile." The dispatcher said, "It looks like it's a battery on a school official by a 5-year-old." The dispatcher also mentioned "Ja'Eisha Scott" by name while broadcasting the call. Because they were familiar with her, Officers Williams and Westerman rightly responded to assist. The officers arrived at the same time, and while walking toward the office, Officer Williams told Officers Lazzari and Hanes that he had contact with Ja'Eisha in the past involving a similar incident in which she destroyed property and battered a school employee. Officer Lazzari said Officer Williams indicated to him that this child may need to go to jail. Meanwhile, Ja'Eisha knew the officers were coming and sat down as she saw them approach. She was seated in the chair and was not actively creating a problem when they entered the office. Officers Williams and Lazzari were clearly in charge. Officer Williams told Ja'Eisha to calm down, but she was already sitting in the chair. At the same time, Officer Lazzari was directing Officers Hanes and Westerman to handcuff her.
Although the officers were aware of Ja'Eisha's past activities, knew the information that had been dispatched and could see the damage in the office, there was no plan or discussion as to what their objective was beyond taking her into custody. Since Ja'Eisha was not actively creating a problem when they entered the office, they could have explored their options prior to making an arrest. They could have called a supervisor, contacted the Youth Resources Division of the Police Department, the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) or the Juvenile Division of the State Attorney's office. Had Ja'Eisha started to act up again, they could have secured her as a dependent child until her mother arrived. Some department violations were committed by the officers involved. For example, Officer Williams did not properly check out on the radio on three different occasions during these events. A more in-depth and thorough investigation should have been conducted prior to taking Ja'Eisha into custody. Officer Lazzari stated in his police report and then verbally to a supervisor that he felt the Baker Act would have been appropriate. However, he should have recognized that Ja'Eisha did not qualify as a Baker Act.
Ultimately, the final disposition was the proper one. Ja'Eisha was released to her mother at the scene. She had not been transported from the school grounds at any time. No charges were filed and no referrals were made.
Officer Mark Williams:
CUBE and Inefficiency; Sustained; Employee Notice
Officer Nicholas Lazzari: Inefficiency; Sustained; Memo of Counseling
As a result of this investigation, a review of our policy and training was warranted. We will continue to work with the school superintendent and his staff to ensure a proper response to elementary school incidents. An internal memorandum from our Communication Division manager will outline the procedures to be followed in dispatching calls for service at elementary schools. A revision to General Order III-6, Juvenile Procedures, is being issued to all personnel. In essence, supervisors will become involved in the disposition of children under the age of eight (8) prior to them being taken into custody. Our Legal Division will also be publishing a Legal Notice to all personnel indicating that in our Circuit Court, children less than eight (8) years of age are generally not prosecuted for crimes. Our Youth Resources Division has been tasked with working with the school system to develop some training for the patrol officer in dealing with small children who are displaying violent or disruptive behavior.
[Last modified August 4, 2005, 14:41:41]
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