Orlando Police have fired Officer Dennis Turner for violating department policy when he arrested two six-year-old children last week. But while Turner’s termination came swiftly (and amid widespread backlash), new light is being cast on the officer’s record of misconduct, including a previous charge of child abuse.
Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón expressed remorse for Turner’s recent actions as he addressed reporters at a Monday press conference announcing Turner’s firing, the Washington Post reports.
“On behalf of myself and the entire Orlando Police Department, I apologize to the children involved and their families,” Rolón said. “As a grandfather of three children less than 11 years old, I can only imagine how traumatic this was for everyone involved.”
Rolón said Turner broke department policy by not getting approval from a supervisor before arresting a minor younger than 12.
Backlash spread after news of one six-year-old’s arrest circulated online. As the girl’s grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland told WKMG-TV, the first-grader was arrested after kicking a school staff member who attempted to calm her down while she was throwing a tantrum. Turner arrested the child, who was then taken to a juvenile detention center, where she was fingerprinted and photographed.
Kirkland said she tried to reason with Turner.
“She has a medical condition that we are working on getting resolved, and he says, ‘What medical condition?’” Kirkland recounted to WKMG. “‘She has a sleep disorder, sleep apnea,’ and he says, ‘Well, I have sleep apnea, and I don’t behave like that.’”
Turner arrested and charged second six-year-old—a boy—with battery on the same day, though little is known about the circumstances of that incident. Police initially incorrectly identified the boy as an eight-year-old.
“I was sick to my stomach when I heard this,” Rolón said, noting that an internal investigation into the arrests was still underway. “We were all appalled. We could not fathom the idea of a six-year-old being put in the back of a police car.”
News of Turner’s arrests also cast the spotlight on the officer’s former record as an Orlando police officer. A veteran officer, Turner was previously reprimanded for excessive force. In a 2015 incident, Turner reportedly Tasered a man five times, including twice when the man was on the floor and not resisting. According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was the sole case out of at least 12 excessive force complaints on the force that year in which an officer wasn’t cleared.
In 1998, Turner was also charged with child abuse for beating his then 7-year-old child, according to the Sentinel. About five years later, Turner was involved in an altercation involving his ex-wife’s husband.
Turner reportedly told the man he was off-duty and could hurt him “and they couldn’t do anything to me,” the Sentinel writes.
Turner’s background raises an obvious question: how was an officer, previously reprimanded for excessive force and charged with child abuse, trusted with policing a school?
The Orlando PD’s decision came hours after State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she would not prosecute the misdemeanor battery charges filed against the two Lucius and Emma Nixon Academy students.
“I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline at any age,” Ayala said on Monday. “These very young children are to be protected, nurtured and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system to do it.”
Representatives from the Orange County charter school also reached out to The Root to clarify the school’s involvement in the arrests.
“Officer Turner’s decision to arrest two of our students was done despite the Principal’s request not to do so,” Shawn Arnold, an attorney representing Lucius and Emma Nixon Academy, told The Root.
“We fully support the Orlando Police Department’s decision to replace Officer Turner who was previously stationed on campus, with another law enforcement officer as mandated by state statute,” Arnold added.