A recently installed police chief is facing criticism after his officers entered an elementary school and handcuffed, arrested, and led away at least five students aged between six and 11.
The children were arrested for failing to intervene in what is described as a “scuffle,” an incident caught on a phone camera, but one that took place a month ago, and off school grounds.
While it is reported five children were arrested, the total number taken into custody in connection with the incident in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is 10, according to the city’s Daily News Journal.
Tennessee lawmakers are now demanding federal and state investigations into the arrests, which happened Friday at Hobgood Elementrary School in Muffresboro, a rapidly expanding city of 120,000 in the Nashville metropolitan area.
“We need to make sure that this never happens again in the State of Tennessee," Nashville Rep. John Ray Clemmons said in a statement Tuesday.
Police Chief Karl Durr, who officially took up his position in April, was criticized for describing the handcuffing of young children as a “learning experience.”
“That shows that he completely misapprehends the seriousness of this incident of excessive force against young children," Clemmons said. "Clearly, he is not capable of properly investigating this matter or holding all those responsible for their actions.”
Clemmons, along with fellow Rep. Mike Stewart, also of Nashville, called for the federal Department of Justice and state authorities to investigate the arrests. Five of those known to have been arrested are black. "There is no explanation for such inexcusable conduct perpetrated against young children who were peacefully attending elementary school when accosted, handcuffed and jailed," Stewart said.
In a statement, Durr promised an internal review. After completing the review, he will meet with a coalition of Murfreesboro pastors. He was at a community meeting Sunday in the city’s First Baptist Church, which was attended by about 150 people, almost all black, the Daily News Journal reported.
“The department is committed to assuring that its officers consistently use good judgment and act in accordance with policy,” Durr said in the statement released by the Murfreesboro Police Department.
He added: “If we need to make changes or address issues internally, we will identify any issue and act accordingly.”
Details on the incident and the arrests are sketchy, largely because state law bars the release of information on juvenile alleged offenders. But the father of three of those arrested - aged between nine and 11 - has revealed some of the background, while local reports added other details.
Zacchaeus Crawford showed arrest affidavits for his children to local news outlets. They reveal each child is charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another." Crawford said he can prove two of his children were not on the scene when the incident is said to have taken place.
The fight, which took place March 20 during a pick-up basketball game, reportedly involved two children aged just five and six. It was taped and the phone was later brought into the school, where a teacher saw the footage.
The school safety education officer, a serving police officer, was informed. But the arrests did not take place until weeks later. The children were taken into custody Friday, and released later the same day. The school safety officer arrested Crawford’s children, according to the arrest affidavits.
Nancy Trevino, of the New York-based advocacy group, Dignity in Schools, described the arrests as “completely uncalled for.”
“The incident did not happen on school grounds,” she said. “What are you saying to a child witnessing a fight? There is a better of handling the situation.”
In 2011, 92,000 children were arrested on school grounds nationwide, the latest figures available, according to a 2014 Department of Education report. There is no breakdown in the report as to the number of those who were in elementary school.