North Carolina autistic boy, 7, handcuffed for nearly 40 minutes for spitting, lawsuit claims

The mother of a 9-year-old autistic boy in North Carolina is suing a former school resource officer who allegedly taunted the child and restrained him in metal handcuffs for more than 38 minutes in 2018.

The then-7-year-old boy was a student at Pressly Alternative School in Statesville, where he had an individualized education program that catered specifically to his autism diagnosis, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues, the lawsuit states. He worked closely with a special education teacher and behavioral health specialist, both of whom were aware of what triggered the boy, who was identified only as “L.G.”

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According to a lawsuit filed late last week in North Carolina federal court, a school resource officer stepped in after he allegedly saw the child spitting inside a safely-monitored “quiet room.” The complaint was filed by L.G.’s mother, who was only identified as “A.G.,” against the city of Statesville, the officer – Michael Fattaleh – and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education.

Court papers show that on Sept. 10, 2018, L.G.’s mother told Pressly employees, including her son’s teacher, that he had recently been prescribed a new medication that could affect his behavior at school the following day.

As predicted, the boy grew “agitated and verbalized being stressed out,” prompting school officials to place him into a “quiet room” where he could safely calm down in the presence of teachers and his behavioral health specialist, the lawsuit states.

Shortly after L.G. was brought into the quiet room, the staff there with him “communicated to a school resource officer that they were OK and did not need assistance” and none of the teachers or specialists were concerned for their safety, the suit states.

Nonetheless, several minutes later, after Fattaleh purportedly saw the boy spit on the floor, the officer entered the quiet room and said, “He’s mine now,” before placing the child into metal handcuffs, the lawsuit states.

Without asking why L.G. was in the quiet room or seeking information regarding his special needs, Fattaleh “forced L.G. into a kneeling position, with his arms pinned behind him, and told the boy, ‘If you spit on me, I’m going to put a hood on you,’” according to the lawsuit.

Fattaleh allegedly proceeded to taunt the child, the lawsuit says, telling him at one point: “If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be shortly.”

According to the lawsuit, he later held the handcuffed boy face-down and “placed his knees on L.G.’s back to hold him” down, as he said: “Have you ever heard the term babysitter? I take that term literally, my friend.”

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The child, who was estimated to be 4-foot-6 and 80 pounds at the time, allegedly complained about pain to his knee and his body as Fattaleh “began discussing football and the weather,” the suit states. He was kept handcuffed on the floor, where he began crying, while Fattaleh allegedly took the teacher’s statement.

The boy was not released from handcuffs until more than 38 minutes, at which point another officer freed him after his mother arrived at the school, the lawsuit states. At the time, Fattaleh allegedly told the child’s mother he would be charged “with one count of assault, maybe two,” according to court papers.

Fattaleh was subsequently placed on administrative leave and later resigned from the Statesville Police Department, the lawsuit states.

His attorney, Ashley Cannon, told Fox News that Fattaleh was responding “to a report involving a student” at the time. 

“Interim Police Chief David Onley and District Attorney Sarah Kirkman requested the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation of the matter,” Cannon said. “The investigation was completed and there are no active investigations or criminal proceedings related to the matter.”

A spokesperson for the board of education could not immediately be reached for comment.

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L.G. has not been back to school since Sept. 12, 2018 and has been homeschooled since then.

The boy’s parents are suing Fattaleh for his alleged excessive use of force and the city for its alleged failure “to implement adequate policies with respect to the proper use and application of force,” when to step in and how to respond to certain instances involving children with special needs.

They’re also suing the board of education for its employee’s actions, or lack thereof – “including when Officer Fattaleh handcuffed L.G. for almost 40 minutes, placed his knees on L.G.’s back, and violently twisted L.G.’s body so that he cried out in pain.”

Stephanie Pagones is a Digital Reporter for FOX Business and Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @steph_pagones.