Boys' arrest over drawings debated


Ocala Police Sgt. Russ Kern holds on Wednesday to one of the drawings of stick figures that led to the arrests of two students, ages 9 and 10, in Ocala.

JANNET WALSH/Ocala Star-Banner
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 12:06 a.m.
OCALA - As the arrest of two elementary school students drew a national spotlight to Ocala, questions persisted Thursday as to whether they should have been taken from Wyomina Park Elementary School in handcuffs.
Ocala Police arrested the two boys, one age 9 and the other 10, this week after they reportedly drew stick figures in pencil and crayon representing themselves and a third boy, showing the third boy being stabbed and hanged.
Police charged the two boys with making a written threat to kill or harm another person, a second-degree felony.
Ocala Police Sgt. Russ Kern appeared on national television Thursday morning defending the department's decision to arrest the two boys. Kern appeared on NBC's "Today" show and CNN's "American Morning," among others.
"If something had happened and we did not (act), then everybody would be saying, 'Why didn't you do anything?' " Kern said Thursday afternoon. "We don't have the luxury anymore of saying this is just child's play."
Police Department policy requires officers to handcuff anyone being arrested, Kern told CNN anchorman Bill Hemmer.
While children can make serious threats, things are not always as they seem in such drawings, said Eric Storch, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
"You have to be safe, and you want to inquire about things like that, but kids are going to be kids," he said. "Does that warrant felony charges? I'd say no."
"That doesn't mean bullying and threats should be taken lightly," Storch said.
"It's not acceptable to allow incidents such as this to occur," he said. "It's very important to firmly respond."
Marion County School District employees said they had no choice but to involve the police. In the aftermath of an incident last year in which two West Port High School students engaged in a sex act in a classroom, the district started a mandatory policy of reporting any suspicious incidents, spokesman Kevin Christian said.
School officials did not report the West Port incident to police for several days afterward. Both students later were charged with lewd and lascivious exhibition.
The new reporting requirement, which took effect at the start of the current school year, has increased the number of students arrested, Christian said.
As of Thursday, 250 Marion County students have been arrested at school this year, including a 9-year-old boy arrested Thursday at Fort McCoy School for allegedly trying to cut a classmate with scissors.
That number includes students whom police picked up at school for acts they allegedly committed outside school hours, Christian said.
For the entire 2003-2004 school year, 396 Marion County students were arrested at school. If arrests continue at the current rate, the total for this school year could approach 500, Christian said.
Officer Shawn Hardman and his supervisor, Sgt. Robbie Bonner, consulted with the State Attorney's Office before making the decision to arrest the two boys, Kern said.
"Because of the ages and the way the whole thing actually played out, they decided to contact the State Attorney's Office," Kern said.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said police were ultimately responsible for the decision to arrest the boys.
"We do not give advice to arrest or not arrest," Ridgway said. "That's strictly the call of the officer who's on the scene."
Incidents of school violence in recent years mean school officials and police must be more vigilant than in years past, Ridgway said.
"If this officer hadn't done something and these two had hurt this third kid, (he'd) be filleted for not having done something," he said.
The legacy of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings that left 15 Colorado high school students dead provides a sense of urgency about such matters, said Maj. Patti Lumpkin of the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
"I think when you take a look at the history of school violence . . . you really cannot take things lightly," she said. "Things have changed. Things that kids did maybe 10 years ago, we'd look at differently."

Student arrests AT A GLANCE

  • As of Thursday, 250 Marion County students have been arrested at school this year.
  • For the entire 2003-2004 school year, 396 Marion County students were arrested at school.
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