The mother of a 6-year-old girl who was handcuffed by Milledgeville police after throwing a tantrum at school said Friday her daughter was "traumatized" by the incident.
Salecia Johnson's parents spoke with reporters at the Atlanta headquarters of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, saying they hope to change police protocol when dealing with minor students. 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.
The incident is the second time in two years that Milledgeville police have made national headlines.
The last time was in March 2010, when they were criticized for initially dismissing a college student's claim that she was sexually assaulted by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. No charges The quarterback was never charged in the incident.
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