Police chief Karl Durr
© Murfreesboro Police Department
In a public outcry, the community sought two specific actions in response to the April 15 arrests of 10 Murfreesboro elementary school students: an investigation and an apology.

They now have both.

"I am so saddened, and I'm so sorry this incident happened," Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr said, "because I truly think it could have been avoided."

In an exclusive interview with The Tennessean, Durr expressed his concern over the outcomes in a case that has garnered attention nationwide and put a spotlight on police-community relations. The matter is before the Juvenile Court of Rutherford County. There are no plans to dismiss the charges at this point.

Durr reiterated that his department is now conducting an internal review of the arrest incident with three goals: 1) to determine if there are policies that have been violated by the department or if there is policy that is lacking, 2) to determine what training may need to be done as a result of what occurred, and 3) to determine if there has been any department misconduct in this case.

Durr said this is an opportunity to review the department's handcuffing policy, which right now simply states an officer should "take into consideration" whether to handcuff a child under age 12. It also gives him a chance to work with community and school officials to develop guidelines for in-school arrests. In the future, he would like to see officers handle situations like this differently, not taking children out of school because it traumatizes both the child and his or her peers. Instead, he would like his officers to focus on community policing principles that respect and engage parents in the behavior of the child and how it can be fixed.

"I want to believe what happened here was an anomaly, because of the good work that I see," Durr said of the other interactions his department has with the community every day. "Errors were made, and now we are going to correct them moving forward and fix them so they are not repeated."

The police department initiated the review process on Monday. Six members of the department not involved in the juvenile arrests case — two from the detective division and four from the patrol division — are conducting the review. Durr received his first briefing Thursday and his second late the next day. He expects a draft of the review by Friday and plans to share what he is legally allowed to with the public. If there are findings of misconduct, the disciplinary process could take up to six months.

Durr was first notified of the case on April 15, the day police arrested 10 children ranging in age from 6 up to 12 years old at Hobgood Elementary School and other locations, handcuffing some and transporting them to the juvenile detention center. Durr started the job as Murfreesboro police chief on April 4and had been with the department less than two weeks when he learned of the arrests.

His office was told that the arrests were in connection to a bullying and assault incident that happened days earlier off campus. At least one of the individuals involved in the bullying case is involved in a larger criminal case, Durr said, which served as the impetus for "looking at the seriousness of this incident."

"Remember there was a victim here too, so if my officer didn't do their job that day, and we ignored the victim, what would this conversation be today?," Durr asked. "That we failed to do our job."

A video was taken of the off-campus incident. It was brought to the attention of a School Safety and Education Officer and later obtained by police. The school safety and education officer conducted an investigation and took the information to the district attorney's office. It was then brought to the judicial commissioner.

The arresting officer for at least three of the 10 children taken into police custody is listed on arrest records as School Safety Education Officer Chrystal Templeton. The paperwork provided by father Zacchaeus Crawford for three of his children shows Judicial Commissioner Amy Anderson signed the petitions, or juvenile warrants, for the Crawford children's arrest.

After the petition was signed, a plan was developed that included going to Hobgood Elementary School and other locations to pick up the children. Durr does not know, at this time, who developed the plan and which department supervisors were made aware of it.

"These are things we need to find out," he said.

Some of the children were handcuffed, Durr does not know how many, and transported to juvenile detention. The two children who allegedly committed the assault were not charged with the crime because of their young age, Durr said. Arrest records show the children alleged to have witnessed the fight were charged with "criminal responsibility for conduct of another," which according to Tennessee criminal offense code includes incidents when a "person fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent" an offense. The offense was assault.

At some point after the children were transported to the juvenile detention center, parents were notified. Durr said the information he has at this time does not suggest his department violated any Tennessee law in the way parental notifications were handled.

"Just because you're not in violation of the law doesn't mean that's the practice you should have," Durr said.

The following day, Durr received several phone calls alerting him to the Facebook post made by the Rev. James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church on East Castle Street in Murfreesboro, about the "major concern going on in our city now." At that point, Durr drove to the station and "started getting as much information as I could about it." He reached McCarroll about 4 p.m., and they met one-on-one that Saturday.

The next afternoon — two days after the children's arrest — more than 150 people gathered at First Baptist Church to discuss the incident. Durr attended and spoke to the crowd. When he left, "the gravity of the situation felt deeper."

As the father of two boys, ages 7 and 12, he could not imagine how it would feel to have one of his sons handcuffed.

On Monday, Durr initiated the internal department review.

Over the past week, the public's disquiet and disapproval continued on a state-wide and national level.

"We find the arrests very disconcerting," said Staci Higdon, whose daughter attends second grade at Hobgood Elementary. Higdon's daughter was not arrested and did not witness the arrests, but she was still scared to go to school once she understood what had happened.

"There's a great concern for the children that were involved. What kind of scarring effects this might have on the children. What later implications it may have on the children putting them through the criminal justice system.

"It stigmatizes the school and the administration, and it also stigmatizes the community. The police say that we do not know the whole story, and I have tried to imagine what the story would be that would justify them coming into the school and handcuffing them and arresting them — it's just not possible."

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators on Thursday joined a growing list of those questioning the arrest of the 10 children. Caucus Chair Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, reiterated the call by two Nashville Democrats to ask for the U.S. Department of Justice and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate the arrest. She also asked for the judicial system to ensure the records of the children arrested to be wiped clean.

"We need to make sure that this never happens again in the State of Tennessee," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said in a news release.

"The Murfreesboro police chief reportedly described the handcuffing of children as young as six as a 'learning experience.' That shows that he completely misapprehends the seriousness of this incident of excessive force against young children. Clearly he is not capable of properly investigating this matter or holding all those responsible for their actions."

When asked to respond to Stewart's comment, Durr said he felt the "learning experience" statement had been taken out of context and portrayed as apathy. That is not the case, he said: "I take this very seriously. I am deeply concerned with what happened." He reiterated that this experience can inform policy and procedure change.

"We all learn from experiences — most of us learn through failures," he said. "We have got to move forward as an agency and move forward with the community."

McCarroll, the church leader who brought the community together Sunday in response to these arrests, has expressed faith in the chief and believes Durr has been given the "opportunity of a lifetime," to handle the response to these events in a way that will forge good relationships for the rest of his tenure here.

"If we handle this properly it can really reset the expectations and the understanding of the community toward the police department in a very positive way."

Durr acknowledges it will take time to regain the trust of the community. He has not yet apologized directly to the parents or children involved, but he plans to.

"There will come a time and a place where I can apologize to them," he said.

He added: "But we're also going to have to be transparent and accountable for what's occurred, and I am going to have to take responsibility for any wrong that's happened and acknowledge it and fix it," Durr said. "That means the changing of policies and practices.

"I'm sorry for what happened," Durr said. "And the pain that it has caused this community throughout."