The AJC’s Christian Boone spoke today with the parents of the handcuffed Milledgeville kindergartner Salecia Johnson.
As we all expected, this story is shifting to a national stage.
What remains unclear is whether this little girl has had a history of outbursts. The Milledgeville police chief said earlier this week that the principal said Salecia had run away from the school before so we can assume her past behavior played a role in the school’s decision to bring in police. A representative of the family denied that the child had run away from the school.
It remains unclear what strategies the school had in place to deal with Salecia, and whether those strategies were tried before police were called.
Salecia was there too, and on her best behavior as she demonstrated for reporters how her hands were cuffed from the back. “It hurted,” she said.
The action was taken after police were called by Creekside Elementary School’s principal, Dianne Popp, to assist with an “unruly juvenile.” According to the incident report, Salecia was “screaming and crying” on the floor when an officer arrived. Popp told the officer she had been struck by a small shelving unit that Salecia had flipped over.
“[Salecia] was observed biting the door knob of the office and jumping on the paper shredder and attempted to break a glass frame above the shredder,” the police report stated. The officer said he attempted to calm Salecia but the girl “pulled away and began actively resisting and fighting with me,” according to the report. At that time the decision was made to place the 6-year-old in steel handcuffs “for her safety as well as others’ safety in the area.”
Salecia was charged with being an unruly juvenile, simple battery and damage to property. Those charges have since been dismissed because of her age.
“It baffles me how a child can be put in handcuffs and sent to an adult jail for an hour,” said Marcus Coleman, president of NAN’s Atlanta chapter. “You’re telling me they couldn’t find a way to restrain this little child?”
Police said they made six attempts at contacting Salecia’s mother, Constance Ruff, before they took the girl into custody but the Milledgeville woman said she never received the calls, adding the school could have contacted other family members whose numbers were in their files.
Police finally reached Salecia’s aunt, Candace Ruff, once they arrived at the Baldwin County jail. “I had to make sure someone wasn’t playing a practical joke on me,” she said. She contacted her sister and they went together to collect Salecia at the jail, where she had been placed in a holding room.
Her mother said Salecia has been “traumatized” by her arrest. “I believe my daughter was treated like a criminal,” she said.
The girl was initially expelled for the remainder of the school year, but Creekside officials invited Salecia to return to class on Monday. But her parents have decided to send her to a school outside of Baldwin County.
School administrators have declined comment on the incident. Meanwhile, Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord defended the arrest Tuesday during a brief press conference. “When a person is put in handcuffs it’s for their safety, it’s not a punishment,” Swicord told reporters.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog