Marie Rattigan was just 13 years old when she was arrested and locked in the back of a police car in Broward County following an incident on a school bus on her way home from school in 2009. She was charged with resisting arrest without violence and taken before a judge. Her case was eventually dropped.
And after 12 years, she has gone from being in front of a judge to now sitting beside a judge, Rattigan said. Now 25, she is serving as an intern with Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper who presides over the juvenile delinquency division at the Second Judicial Circuit in Florida. Baker is the youngest female and the youngest African American to be elected judge in the Second Judicial Circuit.
Rattigan said she was falsely accused at the age of 13 and is now committed to fighting injustice as she hopes to become a lawyer. Rattigan, who was born in Florida to Jamaican parents, Donovan Rattigan from St Mary and Michelle Ribalta from St James, recently shared how she ended up before a judge at 13.
She said she was riding in the front of the school bus on her way home from Renaissance Middle School in Miramar when her cousin got slapped in the face by another student. The driver decided to call the police. Rattigan said she told the driver that she would like to get off the bus and call her mom to inform her that she would be late coming home from school and also to let her know where she was.
But as Rattigan was getting off the bus, she said a police officer appeared and asked her why she was exiting. She said she told the officer that she had permission from the driver to get off and call her mom.
“I was talking to my mom and the police officer came out of nowhere and he was like ‘What the eff are you doing, get on the effing floor,’ ” Rattigan said, adding that the police officer then went onto the bus. At the time, Rattigan said her mom was still on the phone with her. Her mom told her not to say anything and to try to get a pen and paper to write down the name and badge number of the officer.
Rattigan said as she tried to get a pen from a friend who was still on the bus, the officer came back.
“‘Did you not hear what I said? Get on the floor,’” Rattigan recalled the officer saying. “Then he threw me on the car and he patted me down.”
Rattigan’s mother, Ribalta, had by then arrived on the scene. She saw her daughter in handcuffs in the police car and she knocked on the car’s window. Rattigan told her mom that she didn’t know what was going on. “I saw her in the back of the police car,” Ribalta told Tallahassee Democrat. “And he drove off with her.”
Rattigan, who was taken to the juvenile detention center, said she was told by both her lawyer and the judge to take a plea deal in her case. But she refused and vowed to fight for her rights.
“At the tender age of thirteen, I stood boldly in front of a judge and told her I will take my case to trial,” Rattigan said. “After months of court, my case was dropped.”
She told the Jamaica Observer how her case was eventually dropped. “The case went to trial, but we went back to court for the last time before the verdict, nobody showed up. So, the lawyer called and told me that my case was dropped. It was an immediate relief because of what happened to me…the trauma…wow I was just 13 years old and had to be transport back and forth [to] Miramar all the way to the Miami courthouse,” she said.
When Rattigan recently shared her story on her various social media platforms, she said it served as motivation to many, especially Black people who have had similar experiences. “Don’t let anyone or any system try to box you in,” she advised as she shared her story. “Stand up for yourself, even if that means standing alone.”
Rattigan graduated from Florida A&M University in 2019 with an undergraduate degree in journalism. She also pursued a master’s degree in African American history from that same university and graduated this July. Rattigan, who plans to go to law school next, has served as the third vice president of Tallahassee’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
At the moment, she is proud of working with Baker at the Leon County Courthouse as a court admin intern. “Now, I am literally sitting next to the youngest female African American judge who goes through cases and trials with the juveniles,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“I look up to her (Judge Baker-Carper) as a role model and as a change maker because she does everything that she can to not push juveniles into the [prison] system.”
Baker has described her intern as incredibly passionate, intelligent, driven, and purposeful, adding that she would go places.
“I just love how Marie is just a lover of human beings, and that is going to take her very far,” Baker said of Rattigan.