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Florida police chief: Do you think this is the first 6-year-old we've arrested?
Ron Brynaert
Published: Monday April 9, 2007
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In an interview with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, the "no-nonsense" police chief of a small town in Florida defended the arrest of a six-year-old African American girl who had a tantrum in her kindergarten class.

"When 6-year-old Desre'e Watson threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class a couple of weeks ago she could not have known that the full force of the law would be brought down on her and that she would be carted off by the police as a felon," Herbert writes. "But that's what happened in this small, backward city in central Florida. According to the authorities, there were no other options."

Avon Park police chief Frank Mercurio tells Krugman, "The student became violent. She was yelling, screaming -- just being uncontrollable. Defiant."

But after Herbert responded, "But she was 6," Mercurio's "reply came faster than a speeding bullet: 'Do you think this is the first 6-year-old we've arrested?'"

Mercurio adds, "Believe me when I tell you, a 6-year-old can inflict injury to you just as much as any other person."

Herbert notes, "Last spring a number of civil rights organizations collaborated on a study of disciplinary practices in Florida schools and concluded that many of them, 'like many districts in other states, have turned away from traditional education-based disciplinary methods -- such as counseling, after-school detention, or extra homework assignments -- and are looking to the legal system to handle even the most minor transgressions.'"

Last week, the Ohio News Network reported that the girl's parents are mulling a lawsuit against the police department.

"The state attorney's office will decide whether to prosecute the child," the article continued. "She faces charges of disruption of a school function, battery on school employees and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence."

Excerpts from Herbert column:

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I asked the chief if anyone had been hurt. "Yes," he said. At least one woman reported "some redness."

After 20 minutes of this "uncontrollable" behavior, the police were called in. At the sight of the two officers, Mercurio said, Desre'e "tried to take flight."

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There was a problem, though. The handcuffs were not manufactured with kindergarten kids in mind. The chief explained: "You can't handcuff them on their wrists because their wrists are too small, so you have to handcuff them up by their biceps."

As I sat listening to Mercurio in a spotless, air-conditioned conference room at the Avon Park police headquarters, I had the feeling that I had somehow stumbled into the middle of a skit on "Saturday Night Live." The chief seemed like the most reasonable of men, but what was coming out of his mouth was madness.

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