Education

NC mother sues after an officer handcuffs her son with autism during school

Posted October 10, 2020 9:27 a.m. EDT
Updated October 10, 2020 10:54 a.m. EDT

— A mother said that a school resource officer in Statesville handcuffed and held her son on the ground during school.

She said her 7-year-old son has special needs and she sent him to Pressly Alternative School so that he would be safe.

Now, the mother is suing over the incident with the school resource officer that happened in 2018.  

Michael Fattaleh, the officer, responded to a call from staff members that the boy was spitting.

"Spit on me and I'll put a hood on you," Fattaleh said in body camera footage. A spit hood, used by certain law enforcement agencies, is a restraint device to prevent someone from spitting or biting during an arrest. Human rights organizations have opposed using spit hoods, while many enforcement agencies argue there is increased need for them during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fattaleh put the child in handcuffs. Then, staff from the school put a pillow under the child's face and took off his glasses.

"Can you breathe?" Fattaleh asked while the boy was on his stomach, on the floor, with his arms behind his back.

"If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly," Fattaleh said. "You ever been charged with a crime before? Well you're fixing to be."

At times during the confrontation, Fattaleh holds the child's arms behind his back. While holding him down, the officer said, "You ever heard the term babysitter? I take that term literally, my friend."

But, other moments during the confrontation the video shows Fattaleh asks questions like, "Are you hot? Are you warm?" to make sure the child is OK.

The boy starts to cry after nearly 25 minutes of being held down and restrained on the ground. He screams for the officer to get away, the video shows.

The boy's mother arrives to the school a half hour after he was handcuffed. When she arrived to the school, the officer told her that the 7-year-old boy "is going to be charged with one count of assault, maybe two," body cam video shows.

The mother, whose name has been withheld for privacy reasons, said that she was enraged, infuriated and just devastated.

"He has pretty severe separation anxiety," the mother said about her son.

She was outraged when she saw what happened to her little boy on video, who she described as intelligent and verbal but also scared.

"The staff and the officer, while he was basically torturing my son," the mother said, "talked about the upcoming hurricane, the effects of that and football."

Alex Horey, attorney for the mother, filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Statesville, Michael Fattaleh and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education claiming constitutional violations.

"The officer's job as a school resource officer is to make sure that the kids, teachers are safe, and to go an inflict harm on a student for what's perceived as a very, very minor issue, is inexplicable," Horey said.

Fattaleh has since resigned from the police department. The 7-year-old boy was not charged, as Fattaleh said he would be.

The boy's mother quit her job to homeschool her child.

The school district has not directly commented on the case.

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