As the mother of a special needs child, reports of police brutality and overreach in dealing with these unique kids provoke two initial reactions in me: fear and outrage. The story of autistic 10-year-old John Haygood is no exception.
Returning to school for mandatory testing after being homebound, the boy was arrested by Okeechobee County Resource Officers for kicking a teacher in 2016. The offense, battery of a school employee, is considered a third-degree felony. Although the incident happened last year, deputies weren’t able to serve the arrest paperwork until the beginning of April 2017.
John was handcuffed and lead away while his mother pleaded with the officers, which was recorded on video by her cell phone. “He has autism. He doesn’t know what’s going on,” she is heard saying. “He’s scared to death. He’s 10-years-old.”
The boy says in the video, “I don’t want to be touched. Please don’t touch me. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The police claimed they were unaware the boy had autism.
John was taken to juvenile detention and only fed one meal during his time behind bars. After seeing the judge, he was released the following morning under house arrest. His mother claims the situation would never have arisen if the school offered proper services to address his disability. “It’s nationwide, and these children are not getting the services they are guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” she asserts.
She hopes John’s story will bring much-needed attention to the problem of how special needs children are treated in the public school system.
“Now, maybe something will be changed,” she said. “Now, maybe somebody will believe me and other parents when we say our kids are being mistreated.”
Mother Who Filmed Autistic Son’s Arrest Speaks to RT: He was in “defense mode.”
According to a report from RT:
A Florida mother is demanding answers after her 10-year-old autistic son was arrested at school and forced to spend the night in jail. Luanne Haygood – mother of the boy, John Haygood – filmed the encounter with police officers and joins RT America’s Marina Portnaya, telling her she entrusted the school to protect her child’s safety but that he was “treated like a criminal.”
Although the district claims it cannot comment on the incident because of educational laws, it did issue the following statement:
“It has been district procedure to invite students in to take the Florida Standards Assessment. The district would not invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.
“The district routinely assists students by providing services from our board certified behavioral analyst, licensed mental health counselors, school social workers, and psychologists. As a team, these individuals develop interventions, conduct assessments, and offer support both at school and in the home in order to assist students and families. – Okeechobee County Schools.”
Unfortunately, John’s story is not an isolated case.
Autistic Kids and the Police: A Disturbing Trend
Research shows that special need individuals are seven times more likely to be confronted by police than neurotypical individuals — and children are no exception.
Take Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a 6th grader at Linkhorne Middle School in Virginia. He’s autistic and now a convicted felon — partly because he kicked a trashcan in a fit of anger. You read that right, he kicked not a teacher or student, but a trashcan. When the school security officer witnessed the attack on the trashcan, he arrested the boy, who was then charged with disorderly conduct.
A few weeks later, Kayleb was told he needed to remain in the classroom after the other students were excused because he had broken another rule. Instead of waiting, Kayleb left with the other students. The security officer was alerted and approached Kayleb. “He grabbed me and tried to take me to the office,” Kayleb told the Center for Public Integrity. “I started pushing him away. He slammed me down, and then he handcuffed me.”
Stacey Doss, Kayleb's mother and the daughter of a police officer herself, was outraged. Educators stood by, she said, while the cop took her son in handcuffs to juvenile court. The officer filed a second misdemeanor disorderly conduct complaint. And he also submitted another charge, a very grown-up charge for a very small boy: felony assault on a police officer. That charge was filed, Doss said the officer told her because Kayleb “fought back.”
“I thought in my mind — Kayleb is 11,” Doss said. “He is autistic. He doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”
Nevertheless, Kayleb was found guilty by a Lynchburg juvenile court judge and convicted of felony assault on a police officer — this for a boy of eleven years old. The felony conviction will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Sadly, this situation is all too common. The Free Thought Project reports on several additional high-profile cases where children with autism have been victims of the police state.
And the problem isn’t just in the United States. A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders established that three-quarters of the parents of autistic children have been left upset by their experiences with police. The study, based on interviews conducted by academics at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, found that seventy-four percent of parents of autistic children were critical of the way their children had been dealt with. “My son now hates the police because of the way he was treated,” said one parent involved in the study.
Network Autism, which provides information and guidance to the police, notes:
“Sensory-perceptual difficulties can make things like fluorescent lights, flashing lights, sirens and busy environments almost impossible to cope with [for autistic individuals]. Experiencing sensations differently than others, disrupted routines and not knowing what to expect can lead to distraction, anxiety, and fear.”
A report by the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing found there is a “lack of mental health awareness and knowledge among staff and officers” and stressed the need for “sufficient information and training on communication skills for people with mental health issues or learning disabilities, including autism.”
Some police forces in the UK have taken steps to create less hostile environments for interviewing vulnerable individuals. But coauthor of the study, Dr. Katie Maras, said more training is needed for officers in confronting autistic people.
“These findings highlight how police perceptions of their professional experiences with autistic witnesses, suspects, and victims differ from those of the autism community,” she said. “It is essential police feel better equipped with role-specific training about autism, and that they have the institutional support that allows them to flexibly adapt their procedures in order to better support people with autism.”