When a 9-year-old is handcuffed, taken to the juvenile assessment center and is required to appear in court for stealing a rabbit, somebody has clearly overreacted.
Stephanie Jefferson was taken into custody in New Port Richey on Friday after a neighbor said Stephanie had stolen her daughter’s pet bunny. Stephanie said she was scared and confused and that she cried after being questioned by a Pasco deputy.
Instead of taking such drastic measures, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office could simply have restored the rabbit to the rightful owner. A BBC report on the incident, which indicates how far the news traveled, stated the Sheriff’s office could have deferred the charges to a state attorney without arresting the girl on the spot.
According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, the police were obliged to arrest the child, as the owner of the rabbit insisted on pressing charges. It would have made even more sense for the neighbor to attempt to resolve the problem without having the authorities involved. The owner of the rabbit could have gone to the child’s mother and attempted to resolve the problem through a conversation wherein the girl’s punishment could have been discussed. A talk between the parents would not have involved law officers. Now the girl will have a police record because the parents refused to deal with a minor incident and felt it necessary to call the police.
Clearly, the young girl did not know the ramifications of her action and somebody needs to explain them to her. But fingerprinting and questioning the girl without her mother’s presence hardly seems a productive way to go about it.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is claiming it is merely following the letter of the law, but the law cannot be enforced without common sense. The fact that the officers on the “scene” did not seek alternatives to treating the girl like an adult criminal suggests the entire affair was more a matter of overreacting to a small incident rather than a measure that had to be taken.