Pinellas Sheriff reviewing parent arrest outside School Board meeting

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Anti-mask parents say the officers roughed them up as they tried to leave on Nov. 10.

Tampa Bay Times | by Marlene Sokol | December 15, 2020

LARGO — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is assisting with an internal investigation of school district police officers, following a scuffle on Nov. 10 with parents who oppose mandatory masks in the schools.

Responding to a series of public comments from the angered parents at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, superintendent Mike Grego said their account presented “one side” of the incident. But he wants to see the event investigated thoroughly.

“I talked to the sheriff myself,” Grego said, adding that he and schools police chief Luke Williams believe an extra layer of oversight is needed “given the sensitivity of this.”

The parents say that after they spoke before the School Board on Nov. 10, officers blocked their exit and threatened one mother with handcuffs because they were not wearing masks. District policy requires face coverings in all school buildings and offices as protection against the spread of the coronavirus, and signs are posted advertising the rule.

Witnesses say parent Kari Turner, who was there with her two teenage children, stepped in to defend another parent. An argument began and escalated. A video shared on Facebook shows Turner on the ground, pinned down by an officer. Her daughter was injured in the scuffle.

Turner was booked at the Pinellas County Jail on charges that included trespassing, disorderly conduct and battery on a law enforcement officer. She pleaded not guilty.

In this image from a video, a woman is detained by police at the Pinellas County School Board building on Nov. 10 in Largo. The video was posted on Facebook by Sam Stefano.

In this image from a video, a woman is detained by police at the Pinellas County School Board building on Nov. 10 in Largo. The video was posted on Facebook by Sam Stefano. [ Times ]

The children’s father, Jeremy Kench, was among those who spoke on Tuesday. “If I attacked a child, I’d be in jail right now,” he said.

Grego assured School Board members, “I just want you to know that things are being looked at, it’s not being ignored.”

Featured image: Student Alia Kench, left, speaks as her mother, Kari Turner, looks on during a Pinellas County School Board meeting Nov. 10 in Largo. In a video posted on Facebook by Sam Stefano, Kench is seen screaming for her mother who is being detained by police. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has been asked to investigate the incident, the school district said Tuesday. [ Times ]