Tuesday, February 28, 2012
KITCHENER — A Kitchener father is upset that police arrested him at his children’s’ school Wednesday, hauled him down to the station and strip-searched him, all because his four-year-old daughter drew a picture of a gun at school.
“I’m picking up my kids and then, next thing you know, I’m locked up,” Jessie Sansone, 26, said Thursday.
“I was in shock. This is completely insane. My daughter drew a gun on a piece of paper at school.”
The school principal, police and child welfare officials, however, all stand by their actions. They said they had to investigate to determine whether there was a gun in Sansone’s house that children had access to.
“From a public safety point of view, any child drawing a picture of guns and saying there’s guns in a home would warrant some further conversation with the parents and child,” said Alison Scott, executive director of Family and Children’s Services.
Waterloo Regional Police Insp. Kevin Thaler said there was a complaint from Forest Hills public school that “a firearm was in a residence and children had access to it. We had every concern, based on this information, that children were in danger.”
Their concern wasn’t based on the drawing alone, he said.
Neaveh, the child who made the drawing, also made comments about it that raised more flags.
Sansone thinks police overreacted. He didn’t find out until hours after his arrest what had actually sparked the incident.
He said he went to the school Wednesday afternoon to pick up his three children. He was summoned to the principal’s office where three police officers were waiting. They said he was being charged with possession of a firearm.
He was escorted from the school, handcuffed and put in the back of a cruiser.
At the same time, other police officers went to his home, where his wife and 15-month-old child were waiting for his return.
They made his wife come to the police station while the other three children were taken to Family and Children’s Services to be interviewed.
“Nobody was given any explanation,” said his wife, Stephanie Squires. “I didn’t know why he was being arrested.
“He had absolutely no idea what this was even about. I just kept telling them. ‘You’re making a mistake.’ ”
At the police station, Sansone talked to a lawyer who said only that he was being charged with possession of a firearm, Sansone said.
He kept asking questions. He was given a blanket and told he would appear before a judge in the morning to post bail.
“I was getting pretty scared at that point,” Sansone said. “It seemed like I was actually being charged at this point.”
He was forced to remove his clothes for a full strip search.
Several hours later, a detective apologized and said he was being released with no charges, Sansone said.
The detective told him that his four-year-old daughter had drawn a picture of a man holding a gun. When a teacher asked her who the man was, the girl replied, “That’s my daddy’s. He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters.”
“To be honest with you, I broke down,” Sansone said. “My character got put down so much. I was actually really hurt, like it could happen that easy.
“How do you recognize a criminal from a father?’’
He said he thought he had good relations with the principal who offered him a job last year counselling students at the school.
“We’re educated,’’ he said. “I’m a certified PSW (personal support worker) and a life issues counsellor. I go into schools to try to make a difference.’’
After he was released, Sansone was asked to sign a paper authorizing a search of his home. He signed, even though he didn’t have to, he said.
“I just think they blew it out of proportion,’’ Squires said. “It was for absolutely nothing. They searched our house upside down and found nothing. They had the assumption he owned a firearm.
“The way everything happened was completely unnecessary, especially since we know the school very well. I don’t understand how they came to that conclusion from a four-year-old’s drawing.’’
Scott, of Family and Children’s Services, said the agency was obligated to investigate after getting a report from the school.
“Our community would have an expectation if comments are made about a gun in a house, we’d be obligated to investigate that to ensure everything is safe.”
If there’s a potential crime that’s been committed, the agency must call in police, she said
“In the end, it may not be substantiated. There may be a reasonable explanation for why the child drew that gun. But we have to go on what gets presented to us.
“I’m sure this was a very stressful thing for the family,” she acknowledged.
The school principal, Steve Zack, said a staff member called child welfare officials because the law requires them to report anything involving the safety or neglect of a child.
The agency chose to involve police, he said.
“Police chose to arrest Jessie here. Nobody wants something like this to happen at any time, especially not at school. But that’s out of my hands.”
Sansone says he got into some trouble with the law five years ago, and was convicted of assault and attempted burglary. But he’s put all that behind him. He never had any firearms-related charges.
As for the strip search, Thaler said it was done “for officer safety, because it’s a firearms-related incident.
“At the point in the investigation when it was determined it was not a real firearm, the individual was released unconditionally,” he said.
Posted by Zee at 5:50 PM