Prosecutor drops charges against handcuffed kids

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee prosecutor said on Thursday that he intends to dismiss charges against elementary school students who were hauled off to a juvenile facility — some in handcuffs — during the school day and in view of waiting parents.

Murfreesboro police arrested four children at Hobgood Elementary School in April and took them away — two in handcuffs — to a juvenile detention center for allegedly taking part in off-campus neighborhood bullying weeks earlier. Six other children were named in juvenile court petitions stemming from the same incident. All the children were between the ages of 9 and 12.

Parents and community leaders protested the police action, with some demanding that charges be dropped.

Rutherford County prosecutor Jennings Jones said Thursday that’s what he plans to do.

“The state’s intent is not to proceed on the charges,” Jones said. He declined to explain why.

The decision showed that local officials responded to community concerns, said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. She praised the police chief, local clergy and community leaders for being responsive and also for pushing for better training and protocols for police working in schools. She called the incident “a teachable moment” not just for Murfreesboro but for all schools and police departments.

“This was a wake-up call that there were some real problems with protocol that need to be addressed,” she said.

Along with the protests, the arrests led to the police chief forming a committee to examine the situation and recommend improvements. The panel found a series of internal conflicts and miscommunications between police and school authorities leading up to the arrests on April 15.

The committee’s report, though partially redacted, laid bare a reality that frustrates many parents in communities across the nation: Officers assigned to schools often have wide leeway when handling juveniles, and the interests of children don’t always come first.

Unlike some other states, Tennessee doesn’t have a minimum age for when a child can be arrested. And under Rutherford County’s rules, children must be brought to the juvenile detention center for even the most minor infractions, unless an officer decides to issue a verbal warning.

The officer who obtained the petition against the children has since been transferred, and a supervisor is on paid leave while under investigation.