Department of Education finds no bias in how girl's arrest was handled

Nov. 11—The state Department of Education has not found any evidence of bias or wrongdoing by its employees after they called police, who then arrested a 10-year-old Black girl on a campus for allegedly drawing a picture featuring a gun and death threats above the names of students.

According to a Nov. 8 letter, an ongoing DOE investigation has found no wrongdoing by the employees of Honowai Elementary School in how they handled the Jan. 10, 2020, incident. A preliminary investigation revealed "a multitude of inaccuracies and omissions " in the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and attorney Mateo Caballero's account.

School administrators called police at the request of the parent of one of the students whose name was written on the drawing with a death threat.

DOE employees did not discriminate against the girl, who is living with disabilities, for race or disability. Honowai staff did not falsely imprison or detain the 10-year-old and they did not use any, "much less excessive, " force on the girl.

"The HIDOE takes seriously its responsibility to provide a safe and nurturing environment to all children, irrespective of race or disability, " wrote Keith T. Hayashi, the DOE's interim superintendent.

Policy change suggestions made by Caballero and the ACLU of Hawaii will be considered but the DOE said it will not meet the demands outlined in an Oct. 18 letter. The ACLU of Hawaii and Caballero, who represents the girl's mother, Tamara Taylor, asked for $500, 000 and sweeping changes to police access to public school campuses and how officers handle criminal allegations against minor children.

Taylor alleges she was prevented from seeing her daughter while police interrogated her and school officials kept her in another room. When she was released and went looking for her daughter, she was already arrested and taken off campus.

In another letter written on Nov. 8, interim Honolulu Police Chief Rade Vanic also denied any bias on the part of officers and declined to meet any of the Taylor legal team's demands. Vanic said in the letter that given the tragic lessons learned from deadly mainland school shootings, any death threat is always taken very seriously. He said the girl was not interrogated and officers did not take a formal statement from her. He said it was unfortunate they injected race into the incident and described attempts to label the drawing offensive, without describing what it was, as "extremely misleading."

Caballero countered that HPD also was picking and choosing facts.

Two other students, who are not Black, contributed to the drawing and the 10-year-old did not want them to deliver it to the person who was allegedly bullying her. Neither of the contributing artists was questioned or arrested in connection with the incident.

The 10-year-old had no record of bad behavior at the school and was always drawing to help manage her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the painful experiences resulting from being bullied, according to Caballero.