ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.- Police officers committed an error of judgment when they handcuffed an unruly kindergartner at school in March but did not violate policy, the department's chief said Thursday.
Chief Chuck Harmon said the two officers who handcuffed the 5-year-old girl were reprimanded for minor errors in handling the situation, which gained worldwide attention when a videotape of the confrontation was released to broadcasters.
But Harmon said the officers were not punished for shackling the child, who had torn up a classroom and hit an assistant principal before the officers arrived.
Still, Harmon said, the officers should have done more investigation, explored ways to diffuse the situation and allowed school officials to take the lead in handling it.
"This child needed some intervention, but I don't think it was by law enforcement," Harmon said, calling the handcuffing "premature."
The video of the March 14 confrontation prompted criticism of the police and school system, and charges of racism that brought the Rev. Jesse Jackson to town to meet with school officials. The girl is black, and the police officers are white.
Harmon said Thursday that the report found no evidence of racism by the officers.
A video camera captured images of the girl tearing papers off a bulletin board, climbing on a table and punching the assistant principal before police were called.
Then the tape shows the child appearing to calm down before officers approach, pin her arms behind her back and put on handcuffs as she screamed, "No!" and began to cry.
The girl was put in the back of a police car and had her feet restrained after she tried to kick out the window. She was released later without charges.
The girl's mother, Inga Akins, sold her story exclusively to a tabloid TV show, and her attorneys have notified the city that she plans to sue. A working phone number for Akins could not be located Thursday, and she could not be reached for comment. A call to her Stuart attorneys was not immediately returned.
Harmon said the incident prompted a policy change that will prohibit handcuffing children younger than 8 without a supervising officer being called to the scene. But officers need to retain the option of handcuffing children in "extreme situations," such as when a weapon is involved, he said.
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