Body-cam footage of Colorado deputies handcuffing a screaming 11-year-old Hispanic boy with autism sparked outrage.
The boy, who goes to Sagewood Middle School in Parker, Colorado was arrested after poking a classmate with a pencil after a classmate allegedly drew on him with markers.
On Tuesday, Michelle Hanson—the mother of the boy—filed a federal lawsuit accusing Douglas County school resource officers of "aggressively" handcuffing her son and locking him inside a police car for a few hours.
She is seeking unspecified damages from the Douglas County School District, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, and the three deputies who arrested her son on August 29, 2020.
Hanson sued the sheriff and the deputies individually.
A Colorado school officer handcuffed an 11-year-old with autism as he screamed: "You're choking me." Officers lock… https://t.co/Vw7ZQcGpTK— AJ+ (@AJ+) 1615397700.0
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) is representing Hanson in the suit—which alleges violations of the boy's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourth Amendment.
Incidents like this show why we need changes to how students with autism are supported in schools and how disciplin… https://t.co/fXrdSMupHP— Arc Larimer County (@Arc Larimer County) 1615409398.0
Footage released by the ACLU showed the boy—known only as "A.V." in the lawsuit—wailing and telling one of the deputies:
"Stop. You're hurting me."
The deputy responded:
"I'm not—we don't want to hurt you. We just want you to walk with us, OK?"
At one point, the boy flailed and the deputy grabbed hold of his neck and told him:
"You're going to stop. Look at me. Look at me."
To which the boy cried:
"Ow—you're choking me."
For people on the autism spectrum, physical contact can be painful, especially during a sensory overload and they often struggle with making eye contact.
@denverpost How the hell did this guy EVER qualify to become a school resource officer? Damnit people, vet your officers!— Mary A (@Mary A) 1615328470.0
You can see the bodycam footage here.
WARNING: may be disturbing for some viewers
A.V. was reportedly detained inside the patrol vehicle alone for "a few hours."
He started banging his head on the plastic partition and suffered injuries.
Autistic people are disproportionately killed during interactions with law enforcement.
@denverpost What on earth has happened to the police?? No sense anymore. If they were this poor child’s parents, s… https://t.co/ETGpnRWkbt— Baby’s Bubbe 🦁 (@Baby’s Bubbe 🦁) 1615326117.0
Instead of seeking medical attention, the 11-year-old autistic child was taken to a juvenile detention center where he was held on a $25,000 bond and charged for criminal assault, assault on a police officer, harassment and resisting arrest.
You can watch the news report, here.
The charges were dropped after Hanson agreed her son would enroll in a one-year diversion program.
According to KUSA, the Douglas County Sheriff's spokeswoman Lauren Childress commented on the suit, saying the initial call reported something more serious but ultimately untrue—the student stabbed another classmate with scissors and assaulted teaching staff.
ACLU attorney Arielle Herzberg said A.V. deserved understanding for his known issues.
She said of the boy:
"A.V. was calming down with a school psychologist when the school resource officers approached him aggressively, threatening him and handcuffed him."
"So a situation that could have been handled constructively turned out to be a criminal matter."
@denverpost Completely unacceptable behavior from these officers. I hope the parents win this case. It won’t stop u… https://t.co/xF80OhpGyj— Carrie Dodds (@Carrie Dodds) 1615322722.0
@denverpost Yet another situation where police are abusing children in a way that, given the same situation, mother… https://t.co/GF1UtDLy3c— Sirena La Mar (@Sirena La Mar) 1615386147.0
Hanson admitted her son had problems in school since kindergarten where the police have been involved.
"He struggles with aggression and communication," she said, adding the deputies should have been aware of his well-documented history.
"My son is a loving, caring, funny kid. You know, he struggles with communication. He struggles with social environment sometimes, and struggles with touch and sensory stuff."
"And, again, everybody should've known that. It's been very documented."
@denverpost “To protect and to serve.” I wonder which one was accomplished.— S. F. Ozer (@S. F. Ozer) 1615365940.0
When asked if an 11-year-old should have been handcuffed under the circumstances, Herzberg said:
"In my view, counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses, should be called in in situations—especially with children with disabilities. Not cops."