‘Treated like a criminal’: Florida mother of arrested 10yo with autism demands answers

A Florida mother wants to know why her 10-year-old son with autism was dragged away from his elementary school in handcuffs and forced to spend a night behind bars. Luanne Haygood told RT America’s Marina Portnaya the police were “certainly not trained.”

A mother in Florida watched as her 10-year-old son was dragged away from his elementary school in handcuffs and forced to spend the night in jail for an incident that took place last year.

Luanne Haygood captured footage of two school resource officers at Okeechobee Achievement Academy who grabbed her son by the wrists.

“I don’t want to be touched,” John Benjamin Haygood, who was slumped over in his chair, pleaded with the officers. “I don’t like to be touched.”

Hypersensitivity to being touched can be a symptom of autism, according to Autism Speaks.

In the video, Haygood repeatedly asks the officers why her son was being arrested, but they refused to answer.

“They didn’t respond to anything that I said,” Haygood told RT.

Haygood was later informed that the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office had served John Benjamin a juvenile version of a warrant for allegedly kicking and scratching a teacher last October.

“I don’t know what’s going on, mama!” John Benjamin can be heard shouting as his mother followed behind.

Haygood explained to the officers that her son is on the autism spectrum and asks if she could ride with them to the police station, but officers refused.

“He has autism,” Haygood pleaded with the officers. “He doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s scared to death, he’s 10 years old!”

Haygood says that didn’t stop deputies from taking her son down to the station and locking him up overnight.

Haygood told RT the judge requested John Benjamin be kept at a juvenile center in Fort Pierce overnight, until his first appearance in court the next morning.

“I was not allowed to talk to him. Nobody talked to me about him. I can just go by what he told me. He was sitting in a cell on a stainless steel bench on the wall for several hours without being fed, without talking to me, without talking to anybody,” Haygood said.

Haygood says her son was diagnosed with autism two years ago and was enrolled in an individualized education plan last year. He was assigned a paraprofessional educator but complained that the teacher’s aide was hurting him.

An incident report filed six months ago states that John Benjamin was being disruptive in class, throwing paper balls and hitting other students. When the teacher asked him to go to timeout, the report states that he refused. The teacher then attempted to remove him from the class, when he kicked and scratched the teacher.

The teacher “had to restrain the student, he advised he came around the student and wrapped his arms around the upper chest as to not restrict the child’s breathing,” according to court documents obtained by the Washington Post.

Haygood says her son was expelled from school after that incident, but they were called to the school for state standardized testing on April 12. She claims she had no idea there was an outstanding warrant against her son. The warrant charged John Benjamin with battery on a school board employee, which is a third-degree felony.

The school district issued a statement after the arrest, saying: “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,” according to WPBF.

Haygood told RT that she entrusted her son to the school, but he was “treated like a criminal.”

“There’s many different ways you could handle it without law enforcement,” Haygood told RT. “I don’t think resource officers should be there as a form of discipline or punishment, and they’re certainly not trained in this county to deal with a child with special needs.”