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ACLU takes issue with 10-year-old Hawaii girl’s arrest at school for drawing a picture

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 12:56 PM EDT
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HONOLULU (KHNL/Gray News) - The Hawaii ACLU is demanding change from the state Department of Education and Honolulu Police Department following the arrest of a 10-year-old girl last year.

The incident happened last January at Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu, KHNL reported.

The ACLU and an attorney for the family says the 10-year-old girl’s rights were violated when she was detained and questioned without her mom.

She was then handcuffed and brought to jail without being charged with a crime, the ACLU said.

“That’s just straight up wrong,” said ACLU of Hawaii Legal Director Wookie Kim. “And there’s nothing that condones or justifies that.”

In a letter to the Department of Education and Honolulu Police Dept., the ACLU said the girl identified as “N.B.” — who has ADHD — participated in drawing an offensive sketch of another student in response to being bullied.

“The next day, a parent of one of the kids who received this drawing was very upset and essentially demanded that they call the police,” said attorney Mateo Caballero, who is representing the student and her mother.

KHNL asked to see the drawing, but was denied.

“We don’t want it to be about the drawing,” said Cabellero. “This is about a 10-year-old Black girl who was arrested, and there was no reason to believe that she was violent. She didn’t bring any any weapons to school; she didn’t make any explicit threats to anyone.”

The ACLU said the school also detained the student’s mother, Tamara Taylor, in a room and would not let her see her daughter.

Taylor said officers told her that they were negotiating with a parent about the matter involving her daughter and that she wasn’t allowed to speak with her.

“N.B. should have been allowed to be with her parent who was sequestered in another room in the same school at that very time as police officers were interrogating 10-year-old N.B.,” said Kim.

A few days after the incident, Taylor delivered a grievance letter to the school and Leeward District Complex Area Superintendent Keith Hui, which stated in part: “Although I was at Honowai Elementary, I was not told that my daughter was removed from the premises, handcuffed in front of staff and her peers, placed into a squad car and taken away.”

“I was stripped of my rights as a parent, and my daughter was stripped of her right to protection and representation as a minor. There was no understanding of diversity, African-American culture and the history of police involvement with African-American youth. My daughter and I are traumatized from these events, and I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with my daughter forever.”

N.B. was released to her mother at the Pearl City Police Station.

“The HPD followed the proper protocol, but we must remember that the DOE is the complainant in this situation,” said retired federal agent Tommy Aiu. “They’re the ones that called HPD.”

“HPD must act on the complaint levied by the school, and that’s why the child was taken into technical custody to the station then released to her parents,” he added.

The ACLU said based on the comments made by officers that day, they believe N.B. was taken to the station because she wasn’t taking the situation seriously after she made a comment wondering what jail would be like.

“And for the consequence to be getting handcuffed because you express yourself in a way that maybe you didn’t realize, offended someone or harmed someone else, that is not the solution,” said Kim.

The ACLU is demanding the Department of Education and Hawaii PD adopt policies like forbidding staff to call police unless imminent threat of significant harm is presented and to consult with a school counselor before calling.

They also want it mandatory for a parent or guardian to be present when a minor is being questioned.

“Those kind of things should happen and get resolved at the school level because again, the pipeline to prison is not a good methodology,” said Aiu. “Absent of an actual threat, the school should try and work out, maybe a better way, a better path for the child.”

The DOE has said it does not have a comment in response to the letter.

HPD says it’s working with city attorneys to address the allegations.

Copyright 2021 KHNL via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.