Florida lawmaker files bill to prevent arrests of young children

SB 578 would prohibit officers from arresting anyone under 11

Local leaders are pushing to pass a bill that will prevent officers from arresting children younger than 11.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Central Florida state senator filed a bill to prevent young children from being arrested after national outrage was sparked when two 6-year-old children were arrested last month.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, of Ocoee, filed SB 578 last week. The bill would prohibit law enforcement from arresting children under the age of 11.

"When I read of the arrest of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle here in Orlando, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that no existing Florida law precluded this counterproductive response to normal childhood behavior," Bracy said. 

Kaia was arrested in September. Her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, said she had a temper tantrum due to a medical condition and kicked a staff member at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy.

Kaia​​​​'s record was expunged. The Orlando police school resource officer who arrested her was fired.

However, Kirkland said her granddaughter is still traumatized. 

"I really did not expect all of the mental, the emotional, financial fallout that we have been going through," Kirkland said. 

Kirkland said Kaia​​​​ was terrified when she tried to enroll her in public school a few weeks ago.

"First thing she saw was the patrol car with a uniformed school resource officer. She went ballistic in the back seat," she said.

State leaders hope SB 578 will protect children. It prohibits the arrest of children younger than 11 years old unless it is a serious crime.

Orange and Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala stands behind the bill. She said right now, there is no law on the books that sets the age at which a child can be arrested.

"This does not mean that they just run free, slap on the wrist. It means that we've identified a problem and the resolution to that problem is not arrest in the criminal justice system. The resolution is the humane response of getting the kid help and keeping them out of the criminal justice system," Ayala said.

Bracy said if the bill passes, Florida would join 23 other states that have similar laws. He adds the bill is in the early stages and it has bipartisan support. 

Kirkland is hoping the bill will get results and prevent this from happening to anyone else.

"What my granddaughter and I experienced should not be experienced by any other child, parent or guardian," Kirkland said.

Kirkland hopes Kaia can return to public school by the next school year. She said Kaia will have to attend private school this year. A GoFundMe was set up to help with expenses.