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The Washington Post reports that Luanne Haygood and her son John Benjamin had been called to Okeechobee Achievement Academy for standardized testing on April 12. When they arrived, officers arrested her son for an incident that happened in October, during which John Benjamin had kicked and scratched his educational assistant. The Haygood family weren’t notified that John Benjamin had an outstanding warrant for battery involving a school employee.
In the video, taken by Luanne, John Benjamin sits slumped in a chair as Okeechobee County deputies reach for his hands, Luanne asking from behind the camera, “Does he have the same rights as an adult?”
John Benjamin then proceeds to tell the deputies, “I don’t want to be touched, I don’t like to be touched,” crying, as he puts his hands in the air in futility.
“It’s so fucking dumb, momma,” John Benjamin says. “It’s all their fucking fault!…I didn’t know I was going to go get arrested like this.” One of the deputies cuffs his hands, then the other proceeds to escort the 10-year-old out of the school building and into a cop car.
When Luanne asks to ride with her son to the police station, the officers tell her no. She asks for documentation, or an explanation for the arrest, and the officers decline. She explains that John Benjamin is autistic and scared, but the officers say he’s going to be fine. According to the Post, Luanne’s son spent the night locked up at a juvenile facility.
John Benjamin’s mother posted the video to Facebook, where it went viral. She’s since taken it down.
Luanne told the Post that John Benjamin had been diagnosed with autism two years ago and had an individual education plan, but was having issues with his assistant. He claimed she was hurting him, but the school wouldn’t reassign him a new assistant.
Then, on Oct. 27, John Benjamin kicked, scratched, and punched his assistant, after being told to go to timeout. The assistant had attempted to move him and had to restrain John Benjamin by wrapping his arms around the child’s upper chest, according to documents. It’s unknown why Luanne and the family weren’t informed.
Prosecutor Ashley Albright is meeting with the educator who is pressing charges against John Benjamin, but said the State Attorney’s Office will take his autism into consideration in deciding how to proceed with the case.
Autism Society of America President Scott Badesh told the Post that the organization is in contact with the Haygood family to assist with services and legal counsel. The organization is also examining the incident to see if it can take the case to the Justice and Education Departments for investigation.
“It appears the school’s responses are beyond wrong and evil,” Badesh said. “It is a tremendous failure by two allegedly responsible institutions—the police and the school.”
An Okeechobee County schools spokeswoman wouldn’t disclose student information to the Post, but refuted that they would “invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.”
Haygood said that by sharing the jarring video of John Benjamin’s arrest, she just wants her son “to have the same education every other child is entitled to and receives.” John Benjamin is due in court on May 11.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.