Okeechobee child with autism still faces criminal charges; Mom wants to see changes

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. - The video of an Okeechobee County Sheriff’s deputy handcuffing a 10-year-old boy with autism and removing him from his school made national headlines.

Now, the boy’s mom, who shot the video, says nothing has changed. She’s frustrated that her son still faces criminal charges for an incident she believes was the result of his autism.

The prosecutor on the case said they have and are still offering a diversion program which would mean no criminal record or jail time.

However, Luanne Haygood says that’s not nearly good enough, and that doesn't help her son deal with his disorder.

“We’re right where we were at the beginning,” said Haygood.

The Okeechobee County mother filmed the April arrest on her cell phone, you can hear her trying to explain to the deputies that her son has special needs.

Her son, John Benji, was charged for battery on a school employee, something his mom says was an autism-related episode.

“It certainly needs to be dismissed,” said Haygood.  

The sheriff’s office and the school district have yet to explain their policies and procedures when it comes to dealing with a child with special needs and discipline issues.

However, the prosecutor on the case says John Benji has had at least 55 other document incidents of physically aggressive behavior towards other students and teachers, which is why the State isn't dropping the charges.
 
Instead, the prosecutor offering a diversion program.

"They have yet to tell me what this diversion program would entail, what would it involve? How is it going to help John Benji that when he goes into school that these arrests aren’t made again.”

“If the child is extremely disabled and is unable to communicate with others, then it’s extremely unlikely that that program would have a benefit,” said license psychologist Dr. Raphi Wald.

He says it is possible a diversion program could be beneficial. However, it just depends on how high functioning the child is.

“If the child is high functioning, I think its possible that he could benefit,” said Wald.

Meanwhile, Luanne says her son still hasn't been back to school, that they're waiting on the school
to find a suitable placement.

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