What happened to the deputies who arrested a 12-year-old girl at a Palmetto school?

Bradenton Herald | By Jessica de Leon | February 3, 2022

Twelve-year-old Ja’Quyla Jones didn’t break any laws when she took out her cellphone last September and recorded a fight on the campus of Palm View K-8 in Palmetto.

But when school administrators insisted she hand over her phone and she refused, Manatee County sheriff’s deputies ended up arresting the girl, and escorting her from the campus in handcuffs.

The sheriff’s office investigated the incident in which Ja’Quyla was secluded in a room, repeatedly asked to delete the video by administrators, and then brought to the ground by a deputy and handcuffed.

Sheriff Rick Wells told the Bradenton Herald that deputies have no role to play in the enforcement of Manatee County School District policies, including the use of cellphones on campus. He said he has since issued a directive to all school resource officers, or SROs, making that clear.

The Bradenton Herald requested a copy of the reports involved in the internal affairs inquiry. They are public records because the sheriff’s office is a government agency funded by taxpayer dollars.

They show one deputy was issued a written reprimand. When Deputy Judd Beckwith arrived at Palm View to transport Ja’Quyla to the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center, he was chewing tobacco and using profanity while speaking to the girl.

“OK, you’re not going to do that (expletive). You ain’t gonna be trying to slip those cuffs on me. You (expletive) up … I don’t deal with this (expletive),” Beckwith told the seventh-grader.

After its review of Beckwith, the sheriff’s office imposed two counts of conduct unbecoming of a deputy. He received the minimum punishment allowed for such a violation. The infraction is punishable by up to a five-day suspension.

The school’s resource officer, Deputy George Schrenk, who twice forced the girl to the ground during the hour she was held in an empty classroom, has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

“It is clear through the audio and video from his BWC (body-worn camera) that Deputy Schrenk displayed patience with Jones throughout the entirety of the incident. He clearly explained both his expectations of Jones and his intentions while securing her in restraints,” said an Oct. 5 internal inquiry memo. “No violation in policy was noted in the use of force demonstrated by Deputy Schrenk.”

Hired in March 2017, Beckwith had never been disciplined before this.

As first reported by the Bradenton Herald, Ja’Quyla — whose family agreed to speak with reporters — has an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP, for her attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and behavioral struggles. She also has a behavioral plan that outlines de-escalation strategies.

Her mother, Cecelia Jones, said the seventh-grader felt overwhelmed by the adults who isolated her in a classroom during the Sep. 22 incident. For over an hour, school officials demanded she give up her phone because they wanted the fight video deleted. When Ja’Quyla tried to push past the assistant principal and Schrenk, the girl was forced onto the ground.

Ja’Quyla was handcuffed and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, battery on a school employee and resisting arrest without violence. Less than two weeks later, the State Attorney’s Office formally charged Ja’Quyla with battery on a law enforcement officer.

But four days after the Herald reported the story, that case was dropped.

Now the girl’s mother wants everyone involved to be held accountable, she said. Rawsi Williams, a Miami-based attorney, and Frank Allen, Orlando-based, have sent a legal notice to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Manatee County School District of their intent to sue.

Schrenk, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in January 2014, has a nearly unblemished record with the agency. He has been disciplined once, in July 2017 when he was suspended for one day for neglect of duty. The Herald is awaiting a copy of that discipline report.

His personnel file contains several accolades from members of the community, including an Army veteran and retired law enforcement officer who commended Schrenk for helping to calm an episode of PTSD last year. In May 2017, when a member of a Boy Scout troop accidentally called 911, Schrenk ended up staying and talking to the group about his job, showing them his patrol car and equipment.

Schrenk, a Navy veteran, was new to the role of SRO at the time Ja’Quyla was arrested. He was assigned to work as the school’s resource officer just weeks before the start of the school year.

While an internal affairs inquiry found no wrongdoing, a performance review dated Nov. 16 documented his failure to activate his body camera when he was called to the school’s courtyard as the fight erupted.

“He handled the situation properly in keeping himself, the student and staff safe, but he should have turned on his BWC sooner, which would have caught some crucial footage,” his supervisor noted.

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