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Botetourt resource officer loses job over incident | May 26, 2004

At the end of a class May 17, a boy tried to hug the officer, but she took him to the ground, the school's principal said.

A Botetourt County resource officer who responded to a fifth-grader's affection in a defensive manner has lost her job.

Botetourt County Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle said he terminated Deputy C.J. Dickerson on Monday for inappropriately bullying a student by "taking him to the ground" at Colonial Elementary School.

Dickerson had been a resource officer at the school since last fall and had been teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes to fifth-graders since January, Principal Tammie Riggs said.

At the end of a DARE class May 17, a boy tried to hug the officer, but "in sort of like a defense move, she twisted his arm and put him to the floor," Riggs said.

The boy was not hurt and didn't require medical attention, the principal said. "He was more humiliated and scared," Riggs said.

"Her conduct was unbecoming to an officer of this department," Sprinkle said.

After investigating the incident, "I certainly have reason to believe something happened and we've taken care of the problem," Sprinkle said.

No criminal charges have been filed, Sprinkle said, but the action constitutes a misdemeanor, and charges would have to be made by the individuals involved.

"In the interest of fairness and to preclude any appearance of partiality," Sprinkle said he's asked the Virginia State Police to investigate any criminal charges that might arise.

Neither Riggs nor Sprinkle knew what sparked the incident. They would not identify the student or his teacher.

Dickerson could not be reached for comment. Her home telephone number was not in service Tuesday. Dickerson, who has been a deputy since 1996, was the resource officer who was alerted May 19 when five students at Read Mountain Middle School were treated for illegally taking a prescribed anti-seizure medication.

Riggs said she'd received complaints about the deputy and was planning to ask for a new DARE officer for the next school year. In a survey of the DARE program, teachers noted "inappropriate behavior and conversations" between the officer and students, Riggs said.

The complaints weren't glaring, but "at the end of the year, I would have asked that she not be our DARE officer, anyway," Riggs said.

The conversations were not obscene, but "were inappropriate in class," Riggs said. Some information on substance abuse, Riggs said, "was too much information for elementary students. She was too comfortable talking about drug and alcohol use ... about things elementary students didn't need to know."

Riggs said she learned of the incident involving the fifth-grader after school May 18 and conducted her own investigation before notifying the sheriff's office Thursday. A new officer has been assigned to the school, she said, adding that the department was very responsive in organizing the DARE graduation that was held Tuesday night.

Sprinkle said the Colonial Elementary incident was the first complaint he'd received against Dickerson since she became a resource officer.

Sprinkle said he's received several other calls about the officer's behavior since the Colonial school incident was reported. He declined to comment on the types of complaints, saying they were being investigated.