12 Yr Old Arrested at School for Doodling Sues for $1 Million

12 year old Alexa Gonzales doodled on her desk with an erasable marker, was yanked from class, brought to the dean's office, searched, arrested, handcuffed behind her back (not in front, big difference), perp walked in front of her classmates, brought to the station and left handcuffed to a pole for two hours.

She and her mother filed a notice of intent to sue the city education department and the NYPD for $1 million in damages.

What did she doodle? ""I love my friends Abby and Faith." The city acknowledges it made a mistake. This is going to be an expensive lesson for them -- and rightfully so. It's also not the first lawsuit of its kind. [More...]

The family of Chelsea Fraser, then 13, sued the city too after she was arrested for writing "okay" on her desk at Brooklyn's Intermediate School 201. After then-5-year-old Dennis Rivera was handcuffed for throwing a fit in kindergarten, his family sued for $15 million in damages.

Their lawsuit is ongoing, as is a class-action lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in January on behalf of city middle- and high-school students.

Pay up, New York. As for the teacher and assistant principal who physically dragged her from class and called the cops, I hope they've been terminated for their poor judgment.

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    we seem to be (5.00 / 4) (#2)
    by Jen M on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 02:41:23 PM EST
    turning into a society that doesn't like children very much.

    Only the unborn have status (none / 0) (#3)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 02:56:12 PM EST
    Whatever happened to letters (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by cawaltz on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:01:25 PM EST
    to parents and detention? Geez, it seems this kind of behavior could have been handled with a parent conference and/or a scrub brush. An hour after school of scrubbing down desks probably or an essay on the consequences of vandalism charges would have likely yield the same kind of detterant. Has the freakin' world gone mad?

    In my day, the punishment was so severe (none / 0) (#22)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:39:29 PM EST
    that no one was foolish enough to write on their desks....we would have had to stay after school and wash every desk in the room. Not one of us was willing to give up our play time for that.

    That was the punishment (none / 0) (#32)
    by itscookin on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:16:36 PM EST
    in my classroom. I actually hoped someone would doodle every once in awhile so I could get the desks cleaned. Ditto for sticking gum under the desk.

    Zero Tolerance Policy (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Peter G on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:24:45 PM EST
    for normal behavior, for a kid of that age.

    Wow (5.00 / 1) (#42)
    by TomStewart on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 03:12:49 AM EST
    Where were the adults in the this situation? I don't mean the people who are tall and aged and think they're adults, I mean the smart, sensible and intelligent people who could understand that arresting a child and totally humiliating her is not the correct response to this 'crime'. Staying after school and washing desks, sure, being handcuffed and, dragged off to the police and chained to a pole? Not only does the child have her trust in teachers damaged, but in the officers as well.

    There should be a raft of firings over this, not reprimands, not fines, fire them and get them away from any other kids they want to give nightmares to. Put them to work cleaning sewers. that would teach anyone.

    Well, I bet they get one wish, I bet she never writes on a desk again.

    actually, i think (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by cpinva on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 12:00:33 PM EST
    a million dollars is penny ante compensation, it doesn't send a message of fiscal pain, sufficient to cause anyone to use better judgement. the city won't pay, it's insuror will. the individuals (both civilian and uniformed) won't be individually liable, their insurance company will.

    the condition responsible for these kinds of overtly stupid episodes is commonly known as "zero tolerance on steroids". the primary symptom is complete lack of judgement, on the sufferer's part. one million dollars only treats the symptom, 100 million attacks the root cause of the disease.

    while lacking supporting empirical data, my gut tells that the advent of "zero tolerance" policies, in all areas, has resulted in increases police activity, while failing to deliver on the touted increases in safety, productivity, etc.

    as well, it enables those entities employing such policies to "dumb down" their management skills, because considered thought and judgement are no longer basic requirements of the job. saves money for them, costs society more to deal with its effects.

    No Way (none / 0) (#1)
    by sheepfarmer on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 02:32:00 PM EST
    This is absolutely unbelievable. How could anybody blow something like this so way out of proportion. I am not for sueing anybody for anything but this may be the only way that these folks will learn a lesson. These are people who are supposed to be role models for crying out loud.

    There must be more to this story (none / 0) (#5)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:10:14 PM EST
    It sounds like a situation that escalated out of control.  The student probably refused to go to the dean's office when asked by the teacher.  Under what circumstance should a teacher physically remove a child from a classroom?  Situations like these are what lead to the absurd zero tolerance school policies.  Since individualls' judgement may be lacking, a clear rule is preferable.  Expect a rule that says doodling will result in automatic suspension and a call to parents to come take the student home.

    Yeah (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:16:30 PM EST
    There must be more to this story

    But you appear to be looking in the wrong places. If you want to try to comprehend this travesty you may find more answers by look at the personal histories of the adults who excercised such awful judgement.


    I am not looking (none / 0) (#11)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:58:20 PM EST
    Just reading.  The story says that a teacher dragged the student to the dean's office but it doesn't say why.  The arrest and handcuffing don't sound warranted but I'd like to know what led up to it.

    Not Looking? (5.00 / 3) (#14)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:13:35 PM EST
    The student probably refused to go to the dean's office when asked by the teacher.

    Sounds to me that you are looking for a reason for perfectly normal adults to flip out on a child. Instead of trying to figure out how psychologically damaged the child is, you may want to refocus your reading into the situation to figure out what medication the adults needed because they are the ones who appear to be acting crazy here.


    Are you saying (none / 0) (#18)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:31:16 PM EST
    a teacher is never justified in physically removing a child from a classroom?  Yes, it is obvious that things spiraled out of control thereafter.  The handcuffs and the arrest are way over the line.  If we hope to be able to avoid such situations in the future, we need to look at the whole chain of events.  Looking at the end result and assigning blame to the system and ordering some financial compensation will probably fail to change things in any meaningful way.

    Again (5.00 / 4) (#19)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:35:15 PM EST
    For whatever reason, you seem to be focused on punishment of children for, well... acting like children.

    That is not what is wrong with this picture, no matter how much you want to color this story as something wrong with the child.


    No, see below (none / 0) (#24)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:41:53 PM EST
    Some people here believe the teacher should be fired while I don't see enough facts in the story to warrant such a conclusion.

    Once again (none / 0) (#25)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:44:21 PM EST
    City lawyers declined to comment, but city officials acknowledged in February the arrest was a mistake.

    What does the teacher have to do with the arrest? (none / 0) (#27)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:52:04 PM EST
    That's all on the police.

    The school would have had to file (none / 0) (#29)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:56:23 PM EST
    a complainant for the police to make an arrest.

    Yes but not for doodling (none / 0) (#31)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:04:39 PM EST
    I figured out what bothers me about this story.  It says that the kid was arrested for doodling but I find that hard to beleive.  Since the kid was physically removed from the classroom, it seems likely that there were additional issues (altercation, disruptive behavior, argument with the teacher).

    If the arrest complaint says doodling, then I will join all of you in your righteous indignation.


    You are making assumptions without (none / 0) (#34)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:20:24 PM EST
    anything to support it.

    "We're looking at the facts," said City Education Department spokesman David Cantor. "Based on what we've seen so far, this shouldn't have happened."

    "Even when we're asked to make an arrest, common sense should prevail, and discretion used in deciding whether an arrest or handcuffs are really necessary," said police spokesman Paul Browne. link

    Alexa Gonzalez, an outgoing 12-year-old who likes to dance and draw, expected a lecture or maybe detention for her doodles earlier this month. Instead, the principal of the Junior High School in Forest Hills, New York, called police, and the seventh-grader was taken across the street to the police precinct. link

    Please post a link that supports your position.


    I was wrong all of you are right (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:53:12 PM EST
    It appears that NYC has gone way over the line.  In NY, the schools don't have to call the police.  They are already there.

    In my defense I can only state that the original story left out a lot of content and details including the fact that school personnel are bound by a ridiculous zero tolerance policy.  I'll do some research before posting next time.

    School safety officers have been illegally arresting students for minor violations since the New York Police Department took control of security in New York City Public Schools in 1998.  According to New York State law, it is unlawful to arrest children under 16 years of age when a misdemeanor or felony crime has not been committed.  Yet, the NYPD arrested about 300 children between the years of 2005 and 2007 for minor school disciplinary infractions.

    I can only hope the ACLU succeeds.

    In their complaint, the NYCLU and ACLU claim that the actions of the NYPD "generate fear, distrust, and even violence within the schools".  The suit also mentions specific incidents in which teacher and principals were arrested when they objected to the arrest of students.

    School administrators are not immune to the NYPD's control of schools either: Miquel Soquero, a school principal in the Bronx was arrested in 2005 for trying to prevent the handcuffing of one of his students.

    From what I gather from friends who (none / 0) (#21)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:38:38 PM EST
    teach in the public school system here, their "Zero Tolerance Policy" for this type of infraction would have resulted in immediately contacting the child's parent.

    I roll my eyes at the behavior of adults (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:59:37 PM EST
    in the public school system all the time....have done so for decades. It keeps getting worse. The tenure and unionization of teachers has not been good for the communities, IMHO.

    I put a tall/large boned, left-handed (right, and creative brained), high IQ boy (with an absentee dad) through public schools. He was the target of every lame teacher on staff, and the classroom gift to every truly good teacher. Between the harrassment he and his friends took from teachers and administrators, he was lucky to graduate without having been commanded to alternative school.

    The problem continues to escalate. I remember well rolling my eyes when local news would sigh and wonder why schools were being vandalized by the very students who spent so much time there. No matter how ridiculous and over the top the behavior of the administrators and teachers becomes, the root problem continues to go unaddressed. Our schools are no longer designed to prepare children for independence, and since the life they were designed to prepare them for no longer exists, it's anyone's guess what they are thinking with this police state approach.


    Actually, the story DOES say why (5.00 / 1) (#38)
    by sj on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 10:27:44 PM EST
    Right there in the first sentence:

    for doodling on her desk

    You are looking too hard for a rational reason for irrational behavior on the part of the school.


    The "more" to this story is society's (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by esmense on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:59:12 PM EST
    increasing criminalization of routine and commonplace childhood misbehavior. Behavior that would have required me to stay after school to pound erasers (yeah, I'm that old), or be assigned to write "I will not blah blah" 100 times, in my own childhood could get a student suspensed during my son's and, apparently, is cause for arrest and possible incarceration today. (There is no way I would send a child of mine to a public school today.)

    How could it be otherwise? How logical would it be for a society that recognizes no reason to treat 11 year olds differently from adult offenders when it comes to serious crimes to embrace the contridictory notion that extreme youth, inexperience and predictable developmental limitations should be given consideration under any circumstances? (Apparently, popular opinion now not only believes the child is fully developed at conception, but also the adult arrives fully formed at birth.)

    But here's an interesting thing: Minor infractions like writing on the desk with an erasable marker may get you sent up the river, but hounding a fellow classmate to suicide hardly gets the attention of teachers and admininistrators.

    And, while the punishments may be becoming more and more outlandish, one thing I'm sure hasn't changed; just as in my day and my father's and his father's before him, what crime is committed probably isn't nearly as important as who is committing it -- and the economic and social standing of their families. Not everybody gets hauled off in handcuffs for writing on the desk, I'm sure.


    If the story is true on its face (none / 0) (#8)
    by hairspray on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:33:00 PM EST
    then indeed it is crazy and wrong.  However, I find that usually there is more to the story than at first blush.  Lets all calm down here and take a deep breath before we begin to slam everyone.

    Okay (none / 0) (#10)
    by cawaltz on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:51:58 PM EST
    Even if the kid refused to go to the Dean's office my first thought would be to get the parent involved in the process at that point. Since we are talking about a juvenile it seems absurd that the first phone call wouldn't have been to a parent regardless on whether or not the school was trying to determine whether or not to press vandalism charges. It isn't like the police are supposed to be able to do much with a child anyway without the parent being notified.( I almost wonder if that is why the child spent the amount of time she did in handcuffs).

    This was definitely poor judgement(although I think a million dollars is overkill in compensation for this family).


    Yes, the conpensation is troubling (none / 0) (#13)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:06:49 PM EST
    The lawyer is quted as sayiing that they are asking for this to make sure that this doesn't happen to any more kids.  IMO this results in misguided zero tolerance policies that end up in not serving communities well.  What's the alternative?  Developing empowered classrooms and schools where the community (students, teachers, and administrators) jointly develop and enforce rules.  Why is it that such remedies aren't sought?

    Twice already (none / 0) (#16)
    by cawaltz on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:21:40 PM EST
    taxpayers have been on the hook for these exhorbiant lawsuits because of poor judgement(as evidenced by the examples Jeralyn lists). If those lawsuits didn't result in the end of poor judgement then what makes this lawyer think that HIS lawsuit is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Certainly the teacher should at the very least be reprimanded(if not fired). However suing the school system for a million seems counterproductive since the money is not just utilized to pay this teacher. It's utilized for education of other children besides this one. So basically by suing the actual people being punished are other children and taxpayers, not just the school system.

    The remedy to a child being mistreated when she was misbehaving(and let's be clear coloring on other people's property IS misbehaving) is not to award her and her family a million no strings attached. Instead I would hope the remedy would perhaps offer this child a clean slate at another school(admin pays tuition if the choice is a private school) and the school would be required to hold a workshop detailing how to avoid this type of situation to begin with. Let's face it preteens can and are often defiant and they aren't always gonna exercise good judgement. As adults it's our responsibility to guide them and match consequences to actions.

    Here's to hoping the jury takes the same sort of common sense approach. This child's misbehavior shouldn't be the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. That would send the wrong message too.


    Is the teacher at fault here or the Dean? (5.00 / 1) (#44)
    by esmense on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 12:53:57 PM EST
    Policy may have required that the teacher send the girl to the Dean's office -- where, apparently, things got out of hand.

    Teachers don't have total discretion or control over discipline in their own classrooms. Administrators' overly punitive attitudes and policies can interfere with a teachers' relationships with their students and make life as miserable for the teachers as they do for the children.

    The Dean, meanwhile, is answerable to and being pressured by higher ups too -- demanding the impossible, politically inspired standard of "zero tolerance."

    By the time all the consequences of all this bullying among adults rolls downhill to the class room, the kids are in real trouble.


    Mostly agree (none / 0) (#20)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:36:25 PM EST
    Certainly the teacher should at the very least be reprimanded(if not fired).

    I don't agree with this part, however.  There weren't enough details in the story to warrant such a conclusion.


    According to the article in post (none / 0) (#15)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:17:54 PM EST
    Alexa's mother pleaded with the officers to accompany her daughter to the police precinct, but Camacho was told to go home and wait for a call.

    That would likely be why (none / 0) (#17)
    by cawaltz on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:23:16 PM EST
    the police are in on the lawsuit action. Geez, was there a single adult involved in this incident with a lick of sense(besides the parent)?

    You might want to take this under consideration (none / 0) (#23)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:41:45 PM EST
    City lawyers declined to comment, but city officials acknowledged in February the arrest was a mistake.

    Of course the arrest was a mistake (none / 0) (#26)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:49:05 PM EST
    So were the handcuffs, the denial of the mom's request to ride withe kid.  What I am curious about is the extent to which the school contributed to the situation.  Here in Seattle we sometimes have a problem with the schools not calling police when they should (rapes in middle schools) instead of calling them in when they shouldn't.

    School's contribution to the situation (none / 0) (#28)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:54:39 PM EST
    She was "physically dragged by a teacher and an assistant principal" to the dean's office, the legal papers claim.

    School safety officers searched her by placing "their hands inside the rear and front pockets of her jeans."

    Also, I doubt that the police became involved without the school contacting them.


    I can think of circumstances (none / 0) (#33)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:20:11 PM EST
    where such actions would be warranted e.g. threats.  In any case, I am only saying that I would like more details before deciding that the school acted improperly.  The police already admitted that they acted improperly.

    Yes, there may be circumstances (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:24:43 PM EST
    where such actions would be warranted. Yet, you have not at any time provided anything that would apply to this particular case.

    School officials or the police department do not readily admit that they acted improperly. Maybe, when they do, you might want to take their word for it.


    so did the school (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 02:11:39 AM EST
    I bet if they had apologized to the family and public right after it happened and fired the teacher and assistant dean, there would be no lawsuit.

    You know, this is not the most stupid (none / 0) (#9)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:37:04 PM EST
    thing I've read this year, but it's gotta be in the top three.

    Along with the suit, the teachers, et al, should be made to call all the students together and apologize for their actions.

    Then they can be searched and handcuffed to a pole for a few hours.

    That might do some good. Just giving away taxpayer money won't.

    "Pay up, New York" (none / 0) (#37)
    by diogenes on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 07:07:18 PM EST
    Are you talking about ACTUAL damages, or about this girl hitting the lottery jackpot for a million dollars of "punitive" damages?

    punitive damages serve (5.00 / 1) (#41)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 02:18:00 AM EST
    an important function. They send a message that the conduct will not be tolerated. They also serve as a warning to others. Think of the tobacco company and environmental lawsuits -- and those against the car manufacturers for known defects they didn't fix. You have to hit them hard in the pocketbook to get their attention.

    If they were just going to be liable for their own legal fees and nominal damages, all these cases would go to trial. It's fear of the big damage award that makes them settle -- and hopefully causes them to change their behavior. They may be able to withstand a few lawsuits but if they kept coming and were forced to pay big numbers for each, they'd figure it out pretty quick.


    In addition to the valid punitives (5.00 / 1) (#48)
    by Peter G on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 03:53:28 PM EST
    I would think that actual damages for the real and lasting psychological harm (to child and parent alike) resulting from the kid's being subjected to this treatment, including its impact on her future educational opportunities and resulting employability, could all be measured in actual damages, even before you got to the punitive damages that could be warranted if indeed there were two or more prior similar incidents but the City didn't train its school administrators to handle the situation differently.  Also, under section 1988(b), the defendant City will have to pay the plaintiff's attorneys' fees.  Even without punitive damages, that can be a significant deterrent factor for dissuading future similar civil rights violations.

    I don't think many people realize (none / 0) (#49)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 04:47:10 PM EST
    the forever nature of school records. If they did, perhaps more parents would make it more difficult for the school teachers and administrators to behave so horridly.

    I applaud these parents for not letting this just slip into silence thinking they couldn't fight the big school system.


    runaway jury (none / 0) (#46)
    by diogenes on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 03:34:38 PM EST
    The fear of a runaway jury can help plaintiffs extort money, as well.  And if punitive damages were meant to deter defendants then they would be designated to go to government as a form of a fine instead of being divided among the lottery-winning plaintiff's lawyer and plaintiff.

    lawsuits the answer? (none / 0) (#39)
    by lawstudent on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 11:14:07 PM EST
    clearly, the police/schools are out of line here.  but is a civil lawsuit against the city really going to solve these problems?  the city is sued all the time, and they pay out all the time.  nothing seems to improve...

    There is no amount of money (none / 0) (#45)
    by oldpro on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 02:17:15 PM EST
    that will make stupid people smart.

    Yes.  You can quote me and everyone else who gets it:  stupid is forever.  And a big part of stupid is attitude.

    Crayola is responsible! (none / 0) (#47)
    by Oceandweller on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 03:52:24 PM EST
    Though some 15-18ys ago, a very young man was given Crayola- supposedly erasable and said youg man decided to play Leonardo Da Vinci on his Gran walls.
    Yes; you all guess ut. The Eraserable part was not that erasable and Mum in Law got a new wall paper courtesy of her grandson.
    Lesson: never leave a 5ys old drawing alone: you never know.

    Lesson for NY: it is the adults who are faulty here.

    The big problem here... (none / 0) (#50)
    by mcl on Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 04:20:45 AM EST
    ...Is that you can't litigate common sense into people.  Somehow, schoolteachers and police and TSA officers and the rest of the public servants seem to have completely lost any sense of reality or proportion over the last 15 years or so.

    These peoples' brains have all turned to porridge. You're getting completely nutty behavior from public servants...from the police who tried to arrest a pregnant women who drove through some red lights to get to the hospital when she started giving birth in the car, to the TSA nutjobs strip-searching grannies, to the entire Republican party.

    They've all drifted free from reality, like that Ed Asner cartoon character is the movie UP. Courts can mandate payment, but no court can force these people to act as though their brains haven't turned to porridge.  It's mass insanity.  

    Just 15 years, eh? (5.00 / 1) (#51)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 08:26:09 AM EST
    Ask any dyslexic person over 50 years old how they were treated going through public school??