8-year-old handcuffed for tantrum: Was it the right move?

An 8-year-old girl was handcuffed for a tantrum at her elementary school in Alton, Ill. Would you handcuff an 8-year-old for a tantrum? 

Photo illustration: Jim Mone/AP/File
A police officer stands near the entrance at an elementary school in Minnesota. On Tuesday, Alton, Ill. police placed an 8-year-old girl in handcuffs and placed in a juvenile detention room to wait for her guardian to pick her up.

If you were a teacher or a principal of an elementary school facing an unruly student, when would you call in the police?

If an 8-year-old is staging a mega-temper tantrum, what would you do?

That is what school officials were confronted with at the LoveJoy Elementary School in Alton, Ill. when a child in their care began to act out and disrupt the rest of the class. 

Eight-year-old Jmyha Rickmon, who is in a special behavior disorder class, threw a tantrum and reports say the girl was "out of control and tearing up two classrooms." 

After officials called the Alton police, the girl was placed in handcuffs and taken to the police station and placed in a juvenile detention room to wait for her guardian to pick her up.

The girls’ uncle and guardian Nehemiah Keeton, who has cared for her since she was less than two-weeks-old, and also has two other daughters, arrived to pick up his niece two hours after being called. Keeton said, according to The Telegraph in Alton, Ill., that he had to leave his janitorial job in St. Louis – about 23 miles away – to pick her up.

By the time he arrived, "she had handcuffs on her wrists and legs. She asked to use the restroom several times but was denied. The police officer told her if she didn't stop kicking the seat of the car, he was not going to call me."

Alton school officials and police stand by their decision to place the 8-year-old in handcuffs and under arrest.

Jmyha stayed home from school on Wednesday, the day after the incident, because she was afraid. Keeton told The Telegraph, "I'm not sending her back. If she stays here, at least I know she will be safe. This is unacceptable; she woke up with nightmares." Keeton said he plans to file charges.

Kristie Baumgartner, assistant superintendent at the Alton School District, issued a statement about the incident Wednesday afternoon:

"I cannot comment on any specifics regarding the incident, as we protect the confidentiality of our students, and also will not comment of the Alton Police Department's involvement," her statement read. "In the extremely rare instance that a student demonstrates behaviors that are harmful to (the student) or others, our district procedure is to contact the parent immediately and require that they pick up their child after all school-based interventions have been provided.

"If a parent refuses, we then contact law enforcement for additional intervention, if needed," Baumgartner said. "Our first priority is the safety of students and staff, and this procedure is designed to protect everyone involved."

Keeton told in St. Louis that he had told school officials Tuesday that he was coming to pick up the girl, but said he thought school officials grew impatient and called the police. “I feel like if you can’t handle an 8-year-old without calling the police,” said Keeton, “to put fear in them like my child, you don’t need to work with kids.”

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