MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Sept. 22, 2021, was a difficult day for mother Cecilia Jones. Her 12-year-old daughter was arrested at her school in Palmetto.
Months later, the mother intends on taking legal action for some of the events that unfolded that day, which were captured on body camera footage.
It all started after the 12-year-old recorded video of a fight on Palm View K-8 School’s campus. The administration wanted to confiscate the phone to delete the video before it ended up on social media. However, the girl refused to turn her phone over.
Jones was called to the school, but by the time she arrived, her daughter had been arrested for battery.
“I was angry and mad and just crying like I am doing now because it was a hurtful thing to see your daughter get tortured like that by grown people,” Jones said.
Body camera video shows the situation escalates when the girl was placed in a room for an extended period of time. A school resource officer who continually told the girl to keep her hands out of her pockets and off of her phone eventually approached when she didn’t listen to his commands. The video then shows the young girl pushing away the deputy multiple times. That is when she was detained.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sent 8 On Your Side a statement reading in part, “in the process of dealing with the student, the deputy was again pushed by the student repeatedly, and a staff member was also pushed. The deputy, having a responsibility to protect everyone involved, restrained the student.”
“He took great care trying not to hurt her as she was struggling,” Sheriff Wells said in the statement.
After the incident was reviewed, the sheriff’s office found no violation in policy in the use of force demonstrated by the deputy.
“We’re not there to enforce school rules, our SROs are on campus to prevent crime and investigate crime, but not get unnecessarily involved with disciplinary issues between students, parents and staff. We have no basis to take action on such policies,” Sheriff Wells said.
“This student was not arrested because of violation of a school policy, but rather the battery she committed on the deputy and staff member. Our goal continues to be centered around providing security for our schools, which involves preventing crime, and investigating crime,” the statement continued.
The family’s attorney explained the 12-year-old had a documented plan on file with the school for different behavioral situations. The attorney claims the administration ignored the student’s individualized plan on Sept. 22.
“No child should have endured what [she] had to go through and the damages are great for what you have done to this child and you will be held accountable legally,” said attorney Rawsi Williams, aiming her comments at the school district and the sheriff’s office Thursday.
Williams sent Manatee County, MCSO, and the School District of Manatee County a letter notifying them of the family’s intent to take legal action.
The School District of Manatee County provided 8 On Your Side the following statement in regards to the incident.
The School District has carefully reviewed the actions that took place at Palm View K-8 School on Sept. 22, 2021. The district believes that the ultimate outcome of those events did not have to occur as it unfolded.
Towards that end, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders facilitated a meeting between representatives of the School District and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to review the video of events that transpired at Palm View K-8 on Sept. 22 to discuss protocols, expectations and ideas for handling similar situations in the future. One of the key aspects of those talks included defining the difference between school disciplinary matters that should be handled primarily by school administrators, and legal or criminal acts that require the active involvement of sworn law enforcement officers.
Both agencies are working together to make sure the results of those conversations are shared with School Resource Officers, School Guardians and School Administrators to ensure that procedures and protocols are in place and practiced in such a way as to protect the safety and security of all students and staff at all times.
In addition, on Jan. 5, 2022, during a School District In-Service day for professional development, all principals took part in a training session to specifically examine and review procedures and protocols related to student disciplinary matters and how and when law enforcement plays a role in those matters.
Issues of safety and security for all students and staff are the preeminent priority for the School District of Manatee County and we remain committed to the ongoing assessment, education and advancement towards achieving those ends.
The School District of Manatee County is limited in its ability to respond further due to student privacy rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).