Police in Schools

North Carolina Mother Sues School Resource Officer Who Handcuffed and Pinned Her 7-Year-Old Autistic Son

Just the latest in a string of incidents involving school police and children with disabilities

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A North Carolina mother filed a civil rights lawsuit last Friday against a policeman who handcuffed and held her autistic 7-year-old son prone on the ground for nearly 40 minutes. 

Body camera footage of the September 2018 incident, first published by WSOC-TV, shows former Statesville, North Carolina, school resource officer Michael Fattaleh pulling the child's arms behind his back and handcuffing him.

According to the lawsuit, the boy, who is identified only by the initial L.G., had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder the previous year and placed in a special needs classroom. On September 11, 2018, L.G. became overwhelmed and began acting out and spitting in class. He was taken to a "quiet room" to calm down when Fattaleh allegedly walked by and saw the boy spit on the ground. Fattaleh handcuffed L.G.'s hands behind his back and restrained him stomach-down on the floor.

Staff placed a pillow underneath L.G.'s head, and Fatalleh asked him several times if he could breath and if he was comfortable. But he also appeared to taunt L.G. at times.

"If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly," Fattaleh says at one point in the body camera footage. "You ever been charged with a crime before? Well, you're fixing to be."

At another point, Fattaleh puts his knee on L.G's back and says, "Have you ever heard the term 'babysitter?' I take that term literally, my friend."

L.G.'s mother, who is also not named in the lawsuit, arrived to pick him up. Fatalleh told her L.G. was facing one to two counts of assault. The boy was not charged, and Fatalleh resigned from the department shortly after the incident.

The suit, which also names the city of Statesville and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education as defendants, argues that Fatalleh unreasonably restrained L.G., violating his Fourth Amendment rights and inflicting emotional distress. 

"It is incomprehensible to me that anyone would think this response is appropriate and necessary," Alex Heroy, a lawyer representing the family, told The Washington Post. "You don't need to put metal handcuffs on a 7-year-old and pin them down and turn their arm."

Yet it happens, and more frequently than one might think. In August, body camera footage emerged showing officers in Key West, Florida, trying and failing to handcuff an eight-year-old boy, whose wrists were too small for the cuffs. An Orlando school cop made national headlines last September when he arrested a six-year-old girl.

ABC News reported last year that, according to FBI crime data, 30,467 children under the age of 10 were arrested in the United States between 2013 and 2018. During the same period, 266,000 children between the ages of 10 and 12 were arrested.

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd earlier this year, there have been increased calls from civil rights groups and criminal justice advocates to get police out of schools, and several major cities—Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Charlottesville, and Portland, Oregon—have disbanded or slashed the budgets of these programs. 

Activists point to viral videos of school resource officers using excessive force on children to bolster their claims that police in schools contribute to the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. In February, an officer at a high school in Camden, Arkansas, was relieved of duty after video showed him putting a student in a chokehold and lifting the student off the ground. Last December, a North Carolina officer was fired after he brutally body-slammed a middle-schooler. In November, a sheriff's deputy in Florida was arrested and charged with child abuse after a video showed him body-slamming a 15-year-old girl at a special needs school.

Civil liberties groups and disability rights advocates have long warned that a surge in the number of Florida school resource officers was leading to unnecessary criminalization and use of force against minorities and children with disabilities. The investigation found several cases where children with diagnosed behavioral disorders were restrained, handcuffed, and involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluations because of behavior beyond their control. These cases often lead to regression and trauma for the kids involved.

According to the lawsuit, L.G. is now being homeschooled.

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  1. Is there a seven year old kid in the world who has not technically committed assault at some point?

    1. Lest we forget what true evil is: Trump lent his hotel and even cameoed in a propaganda film that encouraged 9 yr. olds commit assault.

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  3. Look, if teachers aren’t allowed to discipline the kiddies, they’re going to call in somebody who can and you probably aren’t going to like the results.

    There is absolutely no need for cops in the schools. If your school is that goddamn dangerous, it needs to be shut down. Smack the shit out of the thugs, smack the shit out of their parents and their parents parents if need be, but get control of the kids. I know it’s tough, you’re going to have to forget all the shit you’ve been taught in your education classes about how imposing standards on the little fucks is racist and all, but, don’t worry, we’ll be smacking the shit out of your professors, too.

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    2. “There is absolutely no need for cops in the schools” doesn’t logically lead to “Smack the shit out of the thugs.” We didn’t have cops in my schools and nobody was “smacked.” We still had discipline. Getting the pigs out of the school is enough.

    3. I’ve got to agree with Dude2, at least partially. Get rid of the cops, yes.

      And there’s no need to ever raise a hand at a kid, unless it’s to break up a fight that’s unmanageable with a firm “Stop!”

      But there does need to be a middle ground of having unarmed security to watch the building, a crisis response team to manage non-lethal disturbances (usually due to a kid with mental defect), and principals and teachers empowered to carry out consequences/punishments with FULL support of the school board.

      At present, most discipline problems are the result of escalation by children and their litigious parents. Principals are emasculated, teachers are treated like shit, and school boards play politics. That’s how you end up with cops in schools, doing the job (poorly) of classroom disciplinarian.

      If you’re going to get rid of the cops, teachers must have the confidence that they’ll be backed up by the administration and boards.

  4. Before I come to any conclusions, I need to know the race of the boy, and the race of the officer.

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    This story isn’t outrage porn, and that blurb at the end is why.

    1. “Several major cities … have disbanded or slashed the budgets of these programs.” A bit of good news in 2020, but consider what it took to make this happen.

  7. Discipline for cognitively disabled students is, well, “retarded”. When my son was 9 or 10 years old, he tickled another student on the bus in a bad place. The principle called the police and I almost thought they were going to arrest him for sexual assault. Although at the time he had no freaking idea what sex was. And of course the other parents were sitting right there for the interview with the police and demanded counseling for their son. Seriously this was over the clothes, a little touching, nothing criminal at all.

    1. Title IX disagrees. That was clearly violent rape.
      Expelled and denied any further education at all is the minimum we should even think about.

      1. When I was in first and second grade, there was a boy who liked to whip it out in the recess line, especially in front of the goody type girls, who would

        1. Tell the teacher. Don’t think he even got sent to the office for it.

          1. A warning should stop it. “Do it again, jimmy and I’ll let Betty kick it.”

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  8. Qualified immunity.
    The prior cases had the kid on the floor for 43 minutes, and for 23 minutes, so there is no way the cop could possibly have known this was wrong.

  9. No worries. All these calls to defund cops And take away their toys are going exactly where you would expect them. School cops have the added protection of the teachers unions.

  10. The boy was not charged, and Fatalleh resigned from the department shortly after the incident.

    As long as it ended Fatalleh for someone, I’m satisfied.

    1. They resign so they can’t be fired and then they can just be hired by another police force. Fatalleh probably thinks it ended well enough for him.

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  18. Most discipline problems are the result of escalation by children and their litigious parents.

    Principals are emasculated, teachers are treated like shit, and school boards play politics.

    That’s how you end up with cops in schools, doing the job (poorly) of classroom disciplinarian.

    If you’re going to get rid of the cops, teachers must have the confidence that they’ll be backed up by the administration and boards.

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  23. The problem originates from putting out of control retarded children into a normal classroom or school.

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  25. The correct response would be simple expulsion

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