At around 4-feet-tall in a pink T-shirt with a rainbow embroidered on it, the 6-year-old stood outside River Point Behavioral Health Center. She thought she was going on a field trip.
She’d end up being held for two days for an involuntary evaluation — unable to see her mom, who said her daughter was administered anti-psychotic medication without her permission.
New video footage reveals a calm, curious, chatty child who one police officer described as being “very pleasant.” The officer also questioned if school personnel were causing the problem.
“I think they may have agitated her a little bit,” the responding officer commented.
On Feb. 4, Martina Falk’s daughter — whose name we’re withholding for privacy because she’s a child — had a tantrum in her special needs class at Love Grove Elementary School. The child, who is diagnosed with ADHD and a mood disorder, was said to be destroying school property, throwing chairs and described as “out of control,” by a social worker contracted by Duval County Public Schools, prompting a call to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to escort her to the mental health center.
The body camera footage obtained by the Times-Union captured the conversation between two responding officers. It also shows at times the child’s wrists, with no handcuffs visible. The mother had previously said the child was handcuffed, but the Sheriff’s Office and school district said that wasn’t true.
“I don’t see her acting how they said. She’s been actually very pleasant,” a female JSO officer said to her male colleague. The Times-Union requested the names of the responding officers from JSO. The male officer agreed, saying “you poke the bear one too many times and it’s gonna scratch you.”
The female officer added that she thinks the 6-year-old’s outbursts were in reaction to school personnel “pushing her buttons.”
She continued, “because they said this is the fourth out of five days she’s been acting like this. Well then, I think [the problem] might be y’all … she’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with her.”
Under the social worker’s recommendation, Falk’s daughter was placed under the Baker Act law, which provides emergency health services, temporary detention and psychiatric evaluation for people in need. The Times-Union reached out to River Point Behavioral Health Center for comment but have not heard back as of publication time.
On Monday, Falk and her legal team addressed the media, announcing they wanted to pursue an investigation into the process behind imposing the Baker Act law on young children, particularly young children with documented special needs.
It’s worth noting that portions of the video inside the school are redacted. There’s also no available footage of the actual incident that prompted calls for reinforcement — only the aftermath. Duval County Public Schools spokesman Tracy Pierce couldn’t confirm if the classroom had cameras or not, citing security confidentiality, but said even if they did, the footage wouldn’t be publicly available.
“If video exists, it would be confidential under student privacy laws,” Pierce said.
Inside the squad car, the elementary school student is observant, inquisitive and chatty.
Within her short drive with the female responding officer from the school to the medical center, there’s giggly banter. She asks about the police car, lists off numbers and letters she sees around her and tries to troubleshoot the officer’s malfunctioning printer.
She asks to go to the store to buy candy. She hums. She asks who’s in the second police car and why it’s following them.
“That’s the other nice police officer that was with me,” the officer said. “I told you he was going to go with us.”
“Oh!” the girl replied in a sing-song voice.
When the paperwork the school provided the JSO officer fails to list Falk’s first name, the child fires it off, along with correct spelling, a phone number and a triple-check that the officer got it right.
At one point, the conversation gets candid:
“Do you have snacks?” the young girl asked the officer.
“No, I don’t have any snacks,” they replied. “I wish I did, I’m sorry. Next time I see you I’ll make sure I bring you some snacks, OK? You better be being good next time I see you, OK? You can’t be throwing chairs!”
As part of Baker Act protocol, Falk was unable to see or take her daugher home until the evening of Feb. 6, two days after the incident.
She says her daughter is traumatized.
“As a mother I feel helpless,” Falk said. “I don’t see the benefit of the Baker Act. It’s not helping [children]. Locking them away, just to get rid of them.”
Falk’s legal team maintains that if the girl was so calm, she didn’t need to be held in a facility in the first place.
“At some point by their admission she was calm and she must’ve been calm enough that her mother should be able to pick her up,” Attorney Reganel Reeves of the Cochran Firm said. “There were alternatives in this situation.”
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