PARKER, Colo. (KCNC-TV)– The mother of a now-12-year-old Colorado boy with autism is suing the Douglas County School District, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and School Resource Officers involved in taking her son into custody in 2019. The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, claims the school district and sheriff’s office failed to adequately train and supervise SROs.
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The lawsuit alleges the boy’s 4th Amendment right of unreasonable seizure was violated when he was handcuffed at school and placed in a sheriff’s office SUV where he remained for hours before being taken to a juvenile facility. The boy allegedly banged his head repeatedly inside the vehicle.
His mother, Michelle Hansen says she had to move the boy, named A.V. in the lawsuit, to another school. “Very scared of police officers in uniform, when he sees one he shakes. Like trembles. It’s really heartbreaking,” she told KCNC-TV.
Body camera video released along with the lawsuit shows part of the interaction.
“I’m shocked at how much they were touching him, his arms and grabbing him, and his neck,” says Hansen.
As a child with autism at the age of 11, A.V. was in a classroom at Sagewood Middle School when the suit claims another child wrote on him with a marker setting him off. It states he stabbed the other child with a pencil.
The sheriff issues a statement “It was reported that a student had stabbed another student with a pair of scissors. It was also reported that a staff member had been assaulted.”
The suit states no staff member was injured and includes a photo what it says was the pencil injury to the other child.
“We do note that the body camera video attached to the ACLU media release has been redacted and was not released by the ACLU to the media in its entirety,” noted the Sheriff.READ MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Will You See Another Relief Payment?
The interaction that is viewable, shows the boy, calm when officers arrived, after he was told to leave the classroom. Officers forcing the boy to comply after he apparently refuses to go to an SRO’s office, handcuff him and the situation escalates into the boy screaming and both the child and officers struggling for control. The video also shows him placed into the deputy’s SUV.
Hensen believed one SRO was particularly harsh, “I definitely think ignorance and lack of training. Again this guy graduated four days after my son’s incident as a solo SRO, he was approved for that and was commended on his behavior on how he handled my son’s case. It was just appalling to me.”
He was held at a juvenile center on $25,000 bond until they could raise the money for release. Her son she says was injured but not given medical help.
“He looked horrible. His forehead was so swollen and so bruised, and he looked like a dinosaur, he looked deformed.”
It isn’t the only story of interactions between law enforcement and students with autism that worry families.
“I’m hearing from our community their concerns for their children their siblings, their neighbors around interactions with law enforcement,” said Lea Anne Paskvalich, executive director of the Autism Society of Colorado. “I think the biggest concern is that the interactions or the actions of the person with autism are so often misunderstood.”
The Autism Society is backing a bill in the Colorado Legislature to create a commission attached to the Office of the Attorney General that will look at training for law enforcement officers in dealing with people with disabilities including those with mental and developmental disabilities. House Bill 1122 is in committee right now, but does have bi-partisan support.
“I definitely think we need more training for our first responders and law enforcement officers,” said Paskvalich.
The Douglas County School District issued this statement to CBS4: “The School District has not been served with the complaint and has not yet had the opportunity to fully analyze its allegations and claims. Further, the District does not comment on active litigation and will have no comment to make outside of the court proceedings.”MORE NEWS: Child Tax Credit: October Payments Hitting Parents' Bank Accounts
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office released this statement, “The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is committed to protecting the entire community, especially the students and staff who attend our schools. When we receive a call for service, especially one that involves a criminal allegation, we must respond. In this incident, it was reported that a student had stabbed another student with a pair of scissors. It was also reported that a staff member had been assaulted.”