On Wednesday, St. Petersburg, FL Police Chief Chuck Harmon gave the fullest account so far of how police ended up at Fairmount Park Elementary School on March 14, 2005.
On March 7, a week before the handcuffing, Officer [Mark] Williams [who is Black] left his business card at Fairmount during a call unrelated to the girl.This account raises further questions about how and why police got involved in Ja'eisha Scott's problems at Fairmount Park Elementary School. In the initial SP Times story, from March 18, before the release of video footage, Pinellas County school district Area III superintendent Michael Bessette, who oversees Fairmount Park and several other schools, agreed that the school should have called district campus police to intervene.
The next day, school officials were struggling with disciplining Akins' daughter, Harmon said. They tried to call Akins and the girl's grandmother. They also tried to call Pinellas schools police, he said.
Getting no response, they called city police. But a police supervisor canceled the call, Harmon said, probably concluding the call was not appropriate for police to handle.
In frustration, he said, the school used Williams' business card and called him on his cell phone. Williams responded and spoke to the girl about "good choices, bad choices, that sort of thing," Harmon said. "At some point he did display his handcuffs to her."
He said the department will look closely at the nature of that conversation. If the handcuffs were used to intimidate the girl, he said, "that's against our policy and we don't do that."
On March 14, the day of the taping, the school called city police again after Pinellas schools police could not come (emphasis added).
Williams heard the call, was familiar with the girl and "decided on his own to respond," Harmon said. Williams was with an officer in training. Another unit with two additional officers responded to the call officially, bringing the total to four.
Harmon said he did not know why a police supervisor did not cancel the call, as was done a week earlier.
Williams is the officer heard on the tape saying to the girl before her handcuffing: "You need to calm down. You need to do it now. Okay?"
The assistant principal was in the process of doing just that, he said, but another in a series of outbursts by the girl interrupted her in mid call. When she asked the secretary to call for help, the secretary called city police instead.Bessette's explanation is quite different from Harmon's, above, in boldface. Chief Harmon's explanation is simpler and easy to believe at face value. Bessette's explanation is complicated and sounds a little far-fetched. Both explanations deflect responsibility from Assistant Principal Nicole Dibenedetto. Where does Mr. Bessette's version of the story come from, if the Pinellas schools police were called but could not come.
The police report indicates that Ms. Dibenedetto was DISAPPOINTED when charges were not filed against the five year old girl. If Ms. Dibenedetto did not intend for the city police to be called, then she would not have had criminal charges in mind. I think there is reason to give further scrutiny to Nicole Dibenedetto's role in having city police come to Fairmount Park. Surely both the District Campus Police and the St. Petersburg Police must have phone logs that might clarify who called what agency when.