LAKE COUNTY, Fla — 9 Investigates has learned that the behavior of a former Lake County school guardian and dean was concerning for the school principal prior to this incident with a kindergarten student.
“I had hopes the police department would look into the situation properly, but they haven’t. My son deserves better. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way,” Kevin Findley told Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones.
Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri told 9 Investigates in an email that his agency consulted with the state attorney’s office, interviewed the principal, DCF investigator, the child and asked other police agencies to interview the former dean and school guardian involved in the incident involving the student, and determined there was no criminal intent found in these videos from Eustis Heights elementary.
The assistant state attorney told us their only involvement was securing subpoenas for this video, and no separate interviews were done.
“I don’t know why when clearly there’s video of my son being dragged like a little rag doll,” Marian C. Findley said.
A DCF investigator who was interviewed said that while the child was probably not handled in the proper way, she didn’t think there was intent to harm him. The investigator told police that she spoke with the child’s teacher, who stated that “he had been very defiant in the classroom, on one day he was throwing rocks and she had to call administrators to get him under control.” The teacher told the DCF investigator that the child had “angry modes and sometimes tried to hit himself and act like he was going to hit others.”
The videos show a former dean and school guardian, pulling a 6-year-old kindergarten student from class on more than one occasion, dragging him by a wrist through hallways over what they described as defiant behavior.
In one video, the former guardian lifts him off the ground by his waistband and told school administrators he thought it was the safest way to transport the student. They have a theory about why their son never told them about how he was treated.
“He just turned 6 so in his mind he thought that this was part of getting in trouble,” Mr. Findley said.
The former dean called the parents on one occasion, leaving a voicemail stating in part, “** is being aggressive, scratching and kicking and carrying on. He walked into my office and tried to start throwing chairs and tissue boxes. We’re basically having to hold him in a chair so he doesn’t destroy my office, someone needs to come get him.”
The principal told investigators when she was interviewed as part of the school district investigation that she thought the dean and guardian were too hands-on with students. A district spokesperson told us that they believe the principal acted appropriately every step of the way. Another guardian said he witnessed the former guardian apply force to pressure points on a student to “get their attention.”
The former dean once recalled telling the former guardian, the students were not “hoodlums from the ghetto.
“You think in your mind there’s no way this is happening in our little city of Eustis,” Kevin Findley said.
The Findleys told Channel 9 that while they were aware of behavior issues at school, they had meetings with administrators, and they didn’t experience the behavior described at home.
The guardian said he received no training on protocols for transporting students or de-escalation. And a four-page document shows the sheriff’s office training for guardians focuses mostly on firearms and defensive tactics because they are not authorized to get involved in incidents that don’t involve active shooters without school permission from the district.
The sheriff’s office told us his certification has been terminated.
Mom and Dad have sent emails to state leaders, finally getting the Florida Department of Education to investigate whether the dean should keep her certification. As I told my husband, a dog gets more help than my son does,” Marian C. Findley said.
DCF initially refused to open a case according to school records. But the parents told us that changed when they reached out with additional information. DCF told us that the agency could only confirm they have an active case involving the child but provided no further details. The district told us the they took immediate action once the incident was reported, and they believe the school principal acted accordingly all along the way, but its investigation into other allegations is ongoing.