Denver police put an 8-year-old autistic boy in handcuffs behind his back and refused to let his mother drive him to a Children’s Hospital; the boy had to ride in the back of a police squad car. The Baltimore Sun reports that the boy allegedly had an “outburst” on the school bus and was taken back to his school by the driver. His mother, identified as Raiko (she did not want her last name used), went to the school and found her son, who weighs about 40 – 50 pounds, surrounded by Denver Public Schools security and two Denver Police officers.
While noting that he may have had to be restrained at first, Raiko did not understand why the handcuffs were not removed once he had calmed down, or why police insisted that he be taken in the back seat of a squad car to the Children’s Hospital.
“He’s sitting next to the window with his hands cuffed behind his back and he’s just looking at me,” Raiko says. “All the adults are standing there, and immediately I just broke down in tears.”
The police report describes an out-of-control child.
Denver Public Schools officials say the Denver Police officer made the decision to handcuff the boy. Police and school spokespeople say they handled the situation the way they did in order to make sure everyone, including the boy, was safe. …
She says police ordered a mental health hold, and then escorted her little boy to the police patrol car, still handcuffed.
“That was very hard. They escorted him to the police car and he got in the back of the car and he just sat there,” she says, “and he just turned and looked through the back of the cop car, looking at me and I’m crying even more because there’s nothing I can do.”
The boy is under the supervision of a therapist and a primary care doctor; his parents noted that, if the school or police thought their son “needed changes in his medication, all they had to do was contact the professionals already seeing the little boy.” Raiko also noted that her son was supposed to be wearing a “special seat belt, but for some reason he was not the day of his outburst.”
While there’s no question that the child’s safety and that of others needs to be taken into account, the school district should have had procedures in place that had been discussed with the boy’s parents in advance. The fact that the boy had to wear a special seat belt suggests that there were concerns about his behavior on the bus. Had school personnel failed to fasten the seat belt properly when placing the boy on the bus? I’m also simply flummoxed to hear that the child was not released to his mother’s care after he had been brought back to the school.
My own 14-year-old son Charlie has had some trouble on the bus. The response has never been to call the police. His teachers, a behaviorist and administrators have immediately contacted us and we’ve then discussed strategies, including explaining to him, in words and pictures, that he has to have “good behavior” on the bus and teaching him about what to do if he gets bored on the long bus ride or if another student might be (for instance) noisy. But physical restraints and punitive measures are too often taken too fast on children with disabilities who may be having “outbursts” because they’re unable to verbally express something like a stomachache or headache.
The Denver boy has now been placed at a new school and his parents have been meeting with staff to make sure he is not handcuffed again. His mother says that “there should be better communication between the school and the people transporting the children to make sure everyone is aware of the child’s special needs.” Indeed, there was absolutely no need to put the child through the trauma of wearing handcuffs and then make him ride in a police car as if he had committed a criminal act.
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