Hopewell, VA — In the land of the free, walking your child to a classroom is now grounds for police action. Fran Belisle, a mother of two, found this out the hard way at a school Arts Festival last week at which her daughter was performing in the school play, Annie.
“You can still see the bruises on my wrists,” the Chesterfield mother said.
“The excessive force, the bruising on my wrists, the bruising on my arm, the fact there was not even a minute between the initial encounter with the Police Officer and cuffs going on,” Belisle said.
The incident began when Belisle was attempting to escort her child to a classroom in which she would wait before the performance. However, police would not let her through — only her daughter.
“The police had set up a barricade in the hallway.”
Belisle, 46, who is 4-feet 11 inches tall is not some criminal mastermind. In fact, she is an upstanding member of the community and comes from a family of law enforcement professionals. However, that is how this Air Force Officer of four years and United States Diplomat of six years was treated when she questioned the police ‘roadblock’ in the school hallway.
The Hopewell Police working the event had created a situation where 8 and 9-year-old children were left unsupervised and unescorted to walk down a hallway in a high school that was opened to the public for the day. When I addressed the situation with a police officer by requesting that either parents be allowed to escort their children or, in the alternative, that one of the officers escort the children to their required location I was told that no parents were allowed in the hallway and “it was not her job to escort children.” When I countered that safety of the children was exactly her job and the main reason she was in the school for this event was student safety, she demanded I leave the school or be arrested. I demanded to know upon what grounds I was being evicted and was immediately arrested, with handcuffs, in front of a crowd of people and my daughter.
“I’m an attorney, I’m in custody, you have to tell me what I’m in custody for,” she said as police became forceful.
Hopewell Police Capt. Mike Whittington said that he understood that Belisle had “started getting disorderly with the officers” and yelling while they were engaged in closing off restricted areas. However, he noted that he had not personally witnessed the incident and Belisle disputes this as well.
Belisle explains that she did not resist and only went limp after police placed her in handcuffs.
After being dragged off the premises in front of her own children as well as the other parents and children at the school, Belisle was issued a summons for the charge of disorderly conduct. She was injured by police and then allowed back into the school to watch the performance.
Belisle’s husband, who was a police officer for several years, was also a witness to the events and says the officer involved should be stripped of his badge.
It is encounters like mine, witnessed by children and their parents that sow the seeds of distrust against the police. It is the unprofessional conduct exhibited by the officer that creates and “us vs. them” mentality between the community and the police.
For now, Belisle and her husband have since filed complaints against the department and are planning a lawsuit to have the charges dropped.