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Fayetteville teacher arrested, accused of breaking girl's arm

Cumberland County detectives on Wednesday charged a J.W. Coon Elementary School teacher with breaking a student's arm.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Cumberland County detectives on Wednesday charged a J.W. Coon Elementary School teacher with breaking a student's arm.

Jackie Bennett, 57, of 6529 Pacific Ave., told investigators he was attempting a therapeutic hold on the 5-year-old girl when the injury occurred, authorities said Thursday.

A therapeutic hold is a way of physically restraining someone for a limited time to calm them and prevent them from hurting themselves or others, Cumberland County Schools officials said.

The restraint is allowed under state law, and Cumberland County Schools spokeswoman Theresa Perry said all teachers of special-needs students, including Bennett, are trained to use the holds as a last resort.

Websites with behavioral health care information say the technique should be attempted by at least two people. Perry said two adults are in every special-needs classroom in the district.

Tacara Gunn told investigators that she had heard a noise when Bennett held her arm, authorities said. A doctor examined the girl at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, confirmed that her upper right arm was broken and said it "appeared suspicious," authorities said.

Tarsha Gunn said her daughter can be "a handful," but she said Bennett shouldn't have treated her so roughly.

"You don't have to use that much force. She is not but so big," Tarsha Gunn said. "I don't mind her having to be put through a therapeutic hold. That's not the problem. It's the type of hold she was put in that makes me upset."

She said Bennett had her daughter in a crouched position so that the girl's feet touched her head.

After Tarsha Gunn reported her daughter's injuries to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, deputies arrested Bennett. Perry said she didn't know if anyone from the school district also reported the incident to authorities.

Bennett was charged with assault inflicting serious bodily injury and child abuse inflicting serious injury. He was released on a $25,000 bond and declined to comment Thursday after making his first court appearance.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office investigated an abuse complaint against Bennett in November 2008 but didn't charge him, authorities said late Thursday. A 6-year-old boy told his mother that Bennett had yanked him out of his chair by the arm and threw him to the floor, but investigators found no physical evidence of abuse and there were no witnesses to the alleged incident.

Perry said Bennett has been suspended with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation of the incident.

He has worked in Cumberland County schools since 1995, starting as a teacher's aide before becoming a teacher three years later.

"I'm not mad at him," Tarsha Gunn said. "I don't hold a grudge against him, but if you work in this type of classroom, you have to have some patience with these types of children."

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Bryan Mims, Reporter
Tom Normanly, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor
Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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