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Not guilty plea entered for child on autism spectrum facing charges in Okeechobee

Posted: 11:10 PM, May 10, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-11 23:10:18Z
Autistic child's mom plans march to courthouse

UPDATE: A public defender entered a not guilty for John Benjamin Haygood during a Thursday morning hearing.

Haygood's family says it is hiring a private attorney.

The judge set a docket call for May 25 at 9:30 a.m. 

Haygood has a meeting with the Department of Juvenile Justice on May 15 at 4 p.m.

His mother expects that's when they will formally offer her son a diversion program which they do not plan to take. She would rather the case go to trial.

"This needs to stop, If I accept the diversion program then it's done with and my kid's just on probation and everybody's done with it but its an issue that needs to be addressed," mother Luanne Haygood said.

The Assistance State Attorney confirmed that the victim/teacher did fill out a 'request to drop charges' form.

However, it is not the victim's choice. The state is still proceeding with the charges because a prosecutor said the child has 55 documented incidents of violence against other teachers and students in the school system.

He said they range from kicking, biting and punching to spitting on other students and teachers.

The prosecutor said he offered the family a diversion program already and then once again in court today.

He said the goal is not to make the child a criminal, but he has to think of the safety of the other kids and teachers at the school.

The prosecutor said if the family accepts the diversion there will be no criminal history or convictions.  

EARLIER STORY:

A 10-year-old boy on the autism spectrum is expected to stand before an Okeechobee County Judge Thursday morning and learn why he was charged with battery. Cell phone video of his arrest went viral last month. His mother is furious deputies put her son in handcuffs for an incident she says was a result of his autism-related issues.

Luanne Haygood has signs and t-shirts ready to lead a rally march to the courthouse.

“Arrest isn’t going to cure autism. Arrest isn’t going to cure meltdowns that autistic kids have,” said Haywood.

Her son John Benjamin Haywood is accused of attacking a school employee during an autism-related episode late last year. Luanne said a series of incidents at school led to him being homebound for several months, but when he returned to school for testing he was arrested. She recorded video of her son being handcuffed and taken away in a patrol cruiser.

“I think if we had people specializing in autism and autism meltdowns at the base of this, at the ground floor of this with the schools, it could have been prevented from ever getting there,” said Haygood.

Attorney Ashley Albright with the Okeechobee District’s State Attorney’s Office said there are 55 documented incidents of Haygood getting physically aggressive at school with other students and teachers. He said the reason why this incident led to an arrest is because a school employee filed charges.

“If you do something repeatedly and it’s not working, rather than call the police cause you’re at the end of your rope, let’s look at why are we here and why are we doing the same things that give us the same results,” added the boy’s mother.

Luanne feels the school failed her son. The attorney for the district said there are plans to present Haywood with an alternative to the battery charge. He said the State Attorney’s Office is prepared to handle the case outside of the court and work with the Department of Juvenile Justice using a diversion program that would offer to counsel and help to Haygood and his family.

Luanne said it’s not a deal she plans to take.

“You’re not erasing the night he spent in jail. You’re not erasing the fact that he’s scared of policemen,” she added.

The child’s mother is raising awareness for special needs children who are arrested. She and her supporters will march to the courthouse at 7:15 a.m. They are meeting at Flagler Park on Park Street in Okeechobee.