Sunday, May 23, 1999

Mom, son, 7 share arrest


Incident at school defended

BY RACHEL MELCER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[cole]
Andrea Cole and son Trashon.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Of all the things Andrea Coleman dreamed of sharing with her 7-year-old son, Trashon, being handcuffed and arrested never made the list.

        Yet the 26-year-old Covedale woman and her boy were loaded into separate Cincinnati police cars Friday morning at his school, Heinold Elementary. She had been Maced and he was crying.

        “This is a nightmare on earth,” Ms. Coleman said Saturday at her home.

        School officials had summoned Ms. Coleman because her son, a special-education student, was arrested for being unruly. She arrived to find him handcuffed and kneeling just outside the building, with classmates nearby.

        There was an altercation between Ms. Coleman and arresting officer Mikle Brown of the District 3 neighborhood unit. She, too, was placed under arrest.

        Ms. Coleman appeared Saturday morning in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to request a continuance in her criminal case. Her arraignment on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest was rescheduled for June 1.

        Ms. Coleman blames Officer Brown for the mess.

        But his supervisor, Sgt. Michael D. Fern, said he was doing his job: restraining and arresting an unruly child and

        his disruptive mother. Officer Brown could not be reached for comment.

        “The mother tried to kick him, punch him and bite him. (She) was completely disorderly from the get-go,” Sgt. Fern said. “We're not paid to be punching bags.

        “And Officer Brown, when it comes to dealing with youth, he's probably one of the most trained and calm police officers. ... For him to place this child in handcuffs, he had to perceive some sort of physical threat.”

        Ms. Coleman and her cousin, 26-year-old Renee Dorsey, who was also at the school, say Ms. Coleman never attacked the officer.

        The cousins described Trashon as quiet and generally respectful of his elders, although he does sometimes have tantrums, they said.

        He was diagnosed with learning and behavioral disabilities at the Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disorders and receives government benefits for additional care. Ms. Coleman said she brought him to Heinold School because its special-education teachers are trained to deal with such problems.

        So she was surprised Friday to hear of his run-in with police.

        “I sought help for my son and he got the help that he needed — until yesterday,” she said. “They shouldn't have let that man handcuff my baby. They knew they weren't supposed to do that.”

        But school officials say they had little to do with the incident.

        Officer Brown was at the school to teach a class in personal safety and law enforcement. He just happened to be passing by when a teacher took Trashon out of class and into a hallway for discipline, according to a Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman.

        “The officer stepped into the situation where the child was having a problem,” said Jan Leslie, taking her information from an incident report filed by Principal Nelida Mietta-Fontana, who could not be reached for comment.

        Ms. Dorsey said she was told by teachers and Trashon that Officer Brown began yell ing at the boy and ordering him to listen. When the boy talked back, he was handcuffed and left to sit in front of his classmates until his mother arrived.

        Sgt. Fern tells a different tale: “The principal retrieved Officer Brown from the classroom (where he was speaking) and Officer Brown confronted the kid. ... He realized he was getting nowhere and placed him under arrest.”

        Although Sgt. Fern signed off on an internal review of the case, he said he was not sure whether the boy ever became violent. He could not answer specific questions about the initial contact between Trashon and Officer Brown.

        As for Ms. Coleman, she said she was heading for a pay phone, her handcuffed son trailing behind, when Officer Brown accused her of trying to take the boy out of the building. He grabbed her arm, they struggled and he used Mace to restrain her.

        Unable to provide specific information about the case, Cincinnati Public Schools general counsel John Concannon said that as a rule, teachers and staff do not interfere in police actions. Officers have sole jurisdiction over potentially criminal acts.

        And while school policy dictates certain procedures for dealing with developmentally disabled students, police do not work under similar restrictions.

        Ms. Coleman worries that the incident will have lasting negative effects on her son.

        “Special kids, they need special treatment. You can't holler at them and scream at them and put them in handcuffs. That's not helping the situation,” she said. “I try to better my kids. I try to teach them to be fair to everyone and treat them the way they want to be treated.”

        She said she has no criminal record and would never do anything to get herself arrested and taken away from Trashon and his two sisters, ages 6 and 10.

        “I'm a positive person. And I don't believe in getting in trouble and being locked up,” she said. “My babies need me. ... I take care of them the best way I can.”

       



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