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8-Year-Old Boy Arrested After Scuffle

Tallahassee Democrat | October 8 2004

It was a typical scuffle between two youngsters - some name-calling, a slap on the face, a punch to the stomach.

After it was over, however, Tallahassee police handcuffed the 8-year-old boy who picked the fight and took him to a juvenile facility Monday night, charging him with misdemeanor battery and criminal mischief.

"This was children's stuff, a disagreement between two neighborhood kids," said attorney Kathy Garner, now representing first-grader Isaac Sutton, who turned 8 last month. The boy's case was made public by his mother, Pamela Kelly.

"He just needs a good talking-to," Garner said Tuesday. "This doesn't need to be handled in the judicial system."

Assistant City Attorney Rick Courtemanche, the Tallahassee Police Department's legal adviser, said the arresting officer decided there was enough evidence to arrest the 4-foot-10, 70-pound boy. And city policy requires officers to handcuff juveniles when taking them to the county's Juvenile Assessment Center, he added.

But the boy's arrest raises the usual questions about arresting kids, including: At what age is there criminal intent?

Isaac's arrest comes about a month after Jefferson County deputies arrested a 7-year-old Monticello boy, charging him with battery in the hitting of a classmate, a teacher and a principal, and scratching a school resource officer.

Johnnie Lee Morris was placed on house arrest and faces expulsion from Jefferson Elementary School, where he was in second grade, reports said.

Here's what happened Monday in Tallahassee, according to the juvenile arrest report provided by his mother:

The 10-year-old victim, whose name was not released, said he was playing basketball Monday evening at the Tallahassee Housing Authority's Pinewood Place development. Isaac walked up and called him "a black chocolate chip." The victim said, "You are."

He then tried to walk away, but Isaac kept taunting him that he would hit him, until the victim said, "Try it." Isaac slapped him in the face. The victim then picked up a rock.

Isaac's 14-year-old sister, who was nearby, said she ran over to break up the fight, putting the victim in a headlock so he would drop the rock. Isaac punched the boy in the stomach, and everyone went their separate ways.

The victim's mother later called police, and Officer Aaron Scott went to their home to interview them. Scott joined the force in August 2001, records show.

Scott also talked to Isaac and his sister, who live down the street from the victim. The sister's story matched the victim's, though she said she did not know who started the fight.

Isaac denied being in the fight, but admitted bending the victim's tennis racket while the boy was playing basketball. Scott - who did not return a call for comment - arrested Isaac and took him to the juvenile center, where he was released to his mother after midnight.

Gordon Waldo, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, said there's no bright line between playground fighting and criminal behavior when it comes to pre-teens.

"At least not one that everybody would agree on," he said. "In my day, we were just taken to the principal's office."

In this case, "there was violence involved, and those kind of acts have been responded to (by police) more forcefully in the last 10 years," Waldo said.

"But it sounds like something that was responded to more harshly than what would suggest," he added. "My gut response is that this was an overreaction."

Added Bryan Loney, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at FSU, "You don't often see elementary-school children taken away."

What Loney wants to know is, "Is this an isolated event? Is there a history with these kids fighting? Is this a kid with a history of impulse control?"

Kelly, Isaac's mother, said this was her son's first brush with the law. He has no behavioral or mental health problems, but does have a reading disability that kept him back in school, she said. She also guessed that the fight started because the victim earlier had spit soda at her son.

Now, it's up to the State Attorney's Office to decide whether to prosecute Isaac, who attends North Florida Christian School. The prosecutor assigned the case was unavailable Tuesday.

But, either way, he's not getting off lightly.

"Oh, he'll get punished, trust me," Kelly said. "Just like we did when we were little. You know, I was taught you're not supposed to fight each other, you're supposed to get along."

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