Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | February 16, 2022
A family is claiming their parental rights were violated after a Broward charter school failed to investigate reports of bullying, and when their 13-year-old daughter was wrongfully arrested for an act that was later attributed to someone else.
The allegations are among a handful included in a 12-page lawsuit filed Tuesday against Renaissance Charter School at Pines, located at 10501 Pines Blvd. in Broward, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) and Instagram by Nia Whims, the student, her mother, Lezlie-Ann Davis, and their attorney Marwan Porter.
The suit, filed in Broward Circuit Court, faults the parties for their role in the events and the “emotional and psychological injury [and] mental distress” caused as a result.
Porter, who announced the lawsuit Wednesday at a press event in downtown Miami with Whims and Davis, said they intend to bring the Pembroke Pines Police Department into the lawsuit as well.
The lawsuit alleges the Police Department denied the parents’ rights by taking Whims into custody and transporting her to a receiving facility, “without seeking consent from her parents and over the parents’ objections” and where she “was denied contact with her parents.”
Charter Schools USA, the parent company of Renaissance Charter Schools, and Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The Pembroke Pines Police Department did not respond to a late request from the Herald.
“We believe that when it comes to our babies, when it comes to our children, law enforcement and school officials need to make sure they do a proper investigation,” Porter told reporters. “They need to do their homework prior to putting our children in handcuffs and locking them up.”
For his part, Porter acknowledged the need to take school threats seriously. But officials and social media sites “have a duty to make sure they protect their users. We have to do better. This cannot go unchecked.”
The family is seeking $30,000 in damages, exclusive of interest, costs and attorney’s fees, according to the lawsuit.
STUDENT FALSELY ACCUSED OF MAKING THREATS
In November, another student at Renaissance created a fake Instagram account under Whims’ name, according to the lawsuit.
Using that account, the other student, referred to as M.S. in the lawsuit, sent “messages to herself that would appear to be sent from [Whims]. The messages M.S. sent to herself included threats to blow up the school and kill people,” including M.S., herself and a teacher at the school, according to the lawsuit.
The messages were disclosed to the teacher, who then informed the police, the suit reads. The next day, and after “no immediate threat to students, staff or to the school” was determined, Pembroke Pines police arrested Whims. She was detained in a juvenile detention facility.
She underwent a psychological evaluation a few days later, and the doctor who did the evaluation said Whims “did not exhibit any behavior that would form the basis for [being] incarcerated, nor did she evidence any reason to believe that she was a danger to herself or others,” according to the lawsuit. The doctor also said Whims insisted she did not send the messages.
Nearly two weeks after she was arrested, Whims was released. Pembroke Pines Police said she did not send the messages because the IP address from which the messages were sent “belonged to a different device,” according to the lawsuit.
Porter said race also could have played a factor in how the events played out, saying the public “would be naive to think [race] didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“If it was a Caucasian girl at a private school and this happens, would it go down like this? We don’t want to be pulling race cards, but if you have half a brain and you’re able to critically think about situations,” it’s clear certain factors play into decisions, he said.
Whims is Black.
POLICE, SOCIAL MEDIA SITES SHOULD DO BETTER, LAWSUIT SAYS
According to the lawsuit, “a simple review of the IP and/or the MAC addresses tied to the alleged Instagram accounts, messages and conversations would have revealed the truth […] is beyond the bounds of decency.” Moreover, it could have prevented Whims from experiencing a traumatic event.
Moreover, the lawsuit said, Meta and Instagram have a duty to protect users, especially children, and “should know that ‘fake’ accounts are being used for illegal and other illegitimate purposes.”
The lawsuit is asking the social media company to, among other things, limit the number of accounts a child may maintain; establish a waiting time for the opening of a second account; and contact a user to verify that a second account is being set up in the user’s name.
The lawsuit is demanding a trial by jury of all issues.