In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people. Police officers need training to respond appropriately. When they do not, things get out of hand.
One such case, in North Carolina, is starting to get national attention.
The school resource officer was not in the room when a 7-year-old boy with autism, whose mother said he was overwhelmed by the comings and goings in his classroom, began spitting inside his special-needs school in Statesville, N.C.
But when the officer, Michael Fattaleh, arrived on the scene, he put the boy in handcuffs, taunted him and pinned him to the ground, according to body-cam footage of the September 2018 incident that was recently published by WSOC.
“You ever been charged with a crime before?” Fattaleh asked, pressing the boy’s head against a pillow on the floor. “Well, you’re fixing to be.”
So began an interaction that lasted nearly 40 minutes, as the child began crying and yelling that he was in pain and two special-needs teachers looked on without intervening.
More than two years later, after the body-cam footage was released, his mother is suing the school board, the Statesville city government and Fattaleh, who resigned days after the incident from his job as a police officer. The woman, identified only as “A.G.” in the suit, alleges the parties in question violated the constitution, participated in negligence and inflicted emotional distress on her and her son.
During other moments of the incident, while the 7-year-old is lying face down on the floor, with his hands cuffed behind him, Fattaleh appears to check on the boy's well-being, asking "Can you breathe?" and "Are you hot? Are you warm?"
When the boy's mother arrives, the officer tells her that her son "is going to be charged with one count of assault, maybe two," the video shows.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to hold Fattaleh liable for inflicting "unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering" on the boy, saying he suffered "severe and permanent psychological injuries and was forced to endure extreme pain, suffering, and emotional distress and mental anguish together with a total deprivation of his rights guaranteed him by the Constitution."
Interim Statesville Police Chief David Onley initiated an internal affairs investigation of the incident, the Statesville Police Department said in a statement.