Police this week removed an unruly 7-year-old from his classroom and forced him to be hospitalized under the state's Baker Act — against the wishes of his outraged parents.
The boy spent the night alone at Morton Plant Hospital before he was seen by a child psychologist the next day and discharged.
"This is a total abuse of police power," said the boy's father, Richard Smith, 41. "My son has no mental health problems. He's never hurt himself. He's never hurt anyone else."
Smith and his wife, Barbara, said they want to consult a lawyer.
By all accounts, the second-grader threw a tantrum at Mildred Helms Elementary. The boy tore up the room during his fit. In the process, he stepped on a teacher's foot and "battered" a school administrator.
Largo deputy police Chief John Carroll said the tantrum was so bad that school officials had to evacuate students from the classroom.
School officials called the parents and police. When officers arrived, they decided the boy needed a mental health examination.
This was not the first time the boy had acted up, Carroll said, and the lead officer, Michael Kirkpatrick, decided the boy couldn't just go home again with his mother.
"He just felt that this young man needed some mental health service he wasn't getting," Carroll explained. "The Baker Act is a kind of a Band-Aid that allows us to have somebody introduced to the service providers that can actually do something for him."
Barbara Smith said she could have defused the situation had officers let her see her son. Instead, they kept her from him as they conducted their investigation, she said. When police decided to take him to a hospital, she agreed to ride with the boy in a police car to comfort him.
The incident was terrifying for the boy. Barbara Smith is keeping the boy and his 9-year-old sister out of school because they are "scared to death" to go back, she said.