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Student with autism went to get lunch. Then school officer handcuffed him, SC suit says

A student with disabilities was handcuffed and wrongfully arrested after he went to grab his lunch at a South Carolina high school, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

His parents found him in the back of a police car when they arrived at North Augusta High School that day on Aug. 27, 2021, Columbia-based attorney Tyler Bailey, who represents the student’s family, told McClatchy News on Sept. 12.

As the sophomore student — who has autism and struggles with expressive communication and processing information — was picking up his lunch at the school’s front office, he encountered a school resource officer, according to Bailey.

After he didn’t affirmatively respond to the officer, who had approached the student and demanded he hand over his lunch, the officer apprehended him and threw him onto the ground, Bailey said.

Then the officer is accused of arresting and detaining the student, who was experiencing a mental health crisis. He was soon charged with assault and disorderly conduct, according to Bailey and a complaint filed Aug. 23 in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas.

The charges were later dismissed by the Second Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Aiken County, the complaint says.

Sylvia Brannon, the student’s mother, is now suing the Aiken County School District and the North Augusta Department of Public Safety over the August 2021 incident on several causes of action, including gross negligence, malicious prosecution and false arrest.

At a Sept. 12 news conference, Brannon said that when she arrived at school that day, she saw her son handcuffed in a police car crying and asked the school officer to let him go, according to WRDW-TV.

Then the officer called for backup and guns were drawn and pointed at the parents, Bailey told McClatchy News.

McClatchy News contacted the Aiken County School District and the North Augusta Department of Public Safety for comment on Sept. 12 and didn’t receive immediate responses.

A spokesperson for the North Augusta Department of Public Safety told the Augusta Chronicle that the school resource officer continues to work for the department and has not faced disciplinary action in connection with the incident described in the lawsuit.

Bailey told McClatchy News that what happened to the student is “inexcusable”

“All school personnel should be trained and have the temperament to deal with special needs children,” he said. “The Brannons’ son was treated like a criminal, put in handcuffs, forced to go through the criminal justice process for simply doing things kids at school do every day — get lunch.”

Tyler Bailey, Sylvia Brannon and her husband at the Sept. 12 news conference.
Tyler Bailey, Sylvia Brannon and her husband at the Sept. 12 news conference.

School didn’t call parents after student was detained

According to Bailey, North Augusta High School never notified Brannon about her son’s arrest.

Instead, she got a call from her other child about what happened, Bailey said.

“I was in the house doing laundry when I received a phone call from my oldest son and he said, ‘Mom, you need to get to the school now. Something is going on with my brother,’” Brannon told the Augusta Chronicle. “I asked what was going on and he said, ‘I don’t know. He’s in handcuffs.’”

Brannon’s son was left with physical and emotional injuries after the school officer assaulted and arrested him without probable cause, the complaint says.

Bailey said he is asking for any footage of the encounter between the student and the officer to be turned over.

The family wants “nothing less than full justice and accountability for their son’s treatment,” Bailey said.

The lawsuit seeks to recover an unspecified amount of damages.

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