At first, Kaia Rolle, 6, appeared not to understand what the police officers were doing.
“What are those for?” she said, eyeing the zip ties the officers had brought to the school office in Orlando, Fla.
“It’s for you,” one officer responded.
As he tied them on, she started to sob: “No, don’t put handcuffs on. Help me!”
Newly released body camera footage, first published by The Orlando Sentinel this week, captured these and other jarring details of how the officers arrested Kaia in September and led her through the school into the back of a police vehicle, despite her anguished pleas for them to let her go. Kaia was arrested after throwing a “tantrum” at school earlier that day in which she kicked a school staff member, her grandmother has previously said.
The arrest had already prompted fierce criticism of the rough treatment of young children by law enforcement. The officer, Dennis Turner, who also arrested a 6-year-old boy in a separate episode on the same day, was terminated from his job in September.
But the distressing footage renewed those criticisms this week, with some saying the arrest constituted child abuse.
“No child should EVER be zip-tied, handcuffed or restrained in any way and then perp-walked out of their elementary school,” Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California, said on Twitter on Thursday. “There is NEVER a good reason to arrest a baby.”
Chief Orlando Rolón of the Orlando Police Department said in a statement on Tuesday that the arrest compromised trust between the community and police officers. He said he had taken steps to prevent similar arrests in the future, including requiring a deputy chief’s approval before a child under 12 is arrested.
“As a grandfather myself, I understand how traumatic this incident was for the children and everyone involved,” he said.
Officer Turner was working as a school resource officer at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, a charter school that serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade, when he arrested the children in September. He had been assigned to the Reserve Officer Program, which is made up of retired officers, The Sentinel reported.
Officer Turner had served on the police force for 23 years and retired in June 2018, according to the department. He could not be reached for comment.
A lawyer for the school said the officer arrested the children despite the principal’s request not to do so.
At the time, the police department required officers to get a supervisor’s approval when arresting anyone under the age of 12; Officer Turner failed to do so.
Meralyn Kirkland, Kaia’s grandmother, told the television station WKMG in September that, on the day of the arrest, she had received a call informing her that Kaia had kicked a staff member at the school, and that the girl had been charged with battery and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.
Ms. Kirkland said she tried to explain that her granddaughter had sleep apnea, a sleep disorder, and that they were working to resolve it.
Aramis Ayala, the state attorney who serves Orange County, Fla., said in September that the children would not be prosecuted.
“I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline at any age,” Ms. Ayala said at the time. “These very young children are to be protected, nurtured and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system to do it.”
She said that she had seen a 6-year-old arrested before, adding that Florida led the nation in juvenile arrests and Orange County led the state.
“This is not a reflection of the children, but more of a reflection of a broken system that needs reform,” Ms. Ayala said.
The body camera footage shows the officers leading Kaia through the school as she screams and cries.
“I don’t want handcuffs on, no, don’t put handcuffs on,” she can be heard saying. “Help me, help me, please, help me.”
As she is led to a police vehicle parked outside the school, Kaia says, “I don’t want to go in the police car.”
“You don’t want to go?” an officer responds. “You have to.”
As she is placed in the back of the vehicle, she can be heard crying and repeatedly saying, “please.”
Ms. Kirkland told The Sentinel that she hoped that when people watch the footage, they will support reforms regarding the arrests of children. She said she wanted to see better training for officers who work with young children.
“I knew that what they did was wrong, but I never knew she was begging for help,” Ms. Kirkland told The Sentinel. “I watched her break.”