An interview with the mom of 10-year old autistic boy who was arrested at his school

John and Luanne

In October returning from a suspension from kicking a teacher, John Benjamin told his mom, “I don’t want to go back to school—I don’t like working with my paraprofessional. He pinches me hard, driving his nails into me and treats me like I am a little kid.”

A few weeks ago a news story about a 10-year old being arrested at his school went viral. The boy’s mother told The Washington Post their presence at her son’s school was requested so John could participate in standardized testing. Instead, he was charged with third-degree felony battery on a school employee. The boy’s mom videotaped on her phone the incident which included her son John Benjamin being taken away by police officers in handcuffs.

Here’s the backstory.

By Ron Sandison

Luanne Haygood noticed her son John Benjamin’s development was different from her other four children. He seemed to enjoy being alone and did not cry at 8 weeks old when left in his bassinet. John also displayed limited eye contact. Unlike typical babies he was not demanding. At 18 months when most toddlers could speak 15 to 20 words—John could pronounce only 2. The pediatrician dismissed his lack of communication stating, “The other four siblings probably speak for John so he does not need to talk.”

John had difficulty engaging in play — hitting and scratching his playmates. At age eight, John was diagnosed with autism.

“John Benjamin is an amazing son. He is polite, loves bike riding, fishing, lawn machines, complex puzzles, and working with his hands. As a toddler he would build detailed Lego cities and designed cool towers,” Luanne shares.

Academics and socials skills were John’s toughest challenge. “John’s behavioral issues cease when he is engaged properly by caring professionals who are able to relate with him as a person and he is taught by methods that relate to his learning style, enabling him to comprehend information,” Luanne shares.

In October returning from a suspension from kicking a teacher, John told his mom, “I don’t want to go back to school—I don’t like working with my paraprofessional. He pinches me hard, driving his nails into me and treats me like I am a little kid.”

Luanne and John’s dad noticed a regression in John’s behavioral since this paraprofessional had been assigned. He began throwing paper in class, displaying other disruptive behaviors, and was agitated. John’s parents requested for him to be assigned a different paraprofessional but the school refused.

John’s dad told the paraprofessional, “You better never touch or pinch my son again!”

school room

The next day the paraprofessional lead John to a room with only a table, no other students, and a stack of homework. John replied, “I want to be with my friends and not locked in this room.”

The paraprofessional stated, “You’re not in charge, I am, you will do what your told!” grasping John’s arm tightly and pinching deep his nails into his soft tissue.

John experienced a meltdown, kicking and screaming, as the paraprofessional tried to force him into the “timeout room” which the children called “The Hole.” This resulted in John expelsion for the final 5 months. He was forced to complete his schoolwork from home.

On April 12th returning from his expulsion to Okeechobee Alternative Academy for Florida Standards Assessment testing, police arrested him. As the cops handcuffed John, he cried out to his mom in terror, “I don’t understand! I did nothing wrong, why are they arresting me?”

The officers refused to show Luanne the warrant or reveal why he was being arrested.

John used his coping skills, telling the officers, “I don’t like being touched.”

“My son has autism. Can I please go with him?” Luanne pleaded.

Luanne recorded on her iPhone the arrest and posted it on Facebook bringing national headlines. John spent the night in a juvenile detention and on May 11th will be arraigned for felony battery on a school board authority.

“I was extremely angry. I felt like this was a power play. I felt like this was a this is what you get. You can’t do anything about it. We’re going to arrest your son if he can’t abide by the rules,” Luanne told CBS Miami.

When I posted on attorney Gary Mayerson’s Facebook John’s story, Natalie Brandefine, Program Director at Happy Hour 4 Kids commented, “This is never the answer. However, not many programs are willing to work through aggression with children? I have never even called a parent to pick their child up never mind the police. It is my job to help that child. John’s aggression is a behavior and all behaviors are forms of communication. What was John trying to communicate? Did any ask? This is so upsetting.”

Gary Mayerson has come to the defense of John Benjamin and is helping Luanne with his case.

The weakest voice deserves the greatest defense.

***

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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1 Comment

  • Well, it’s interesting that the author lists to his credit being able to quote thousands of scriptures and biblical references, but can’t apparently properly quote the dialogue from a recording he and everyone else could access for accuracy for one thing.
    I’d also be interested to know his source for quoting the paraprofessional as well as describing the related events, because they neither match what was reported by the paraprofessional, those other adults who witnessed the events, the police report (which noted no marks on John Benjamin’s arm consistent with or supporting a description that would match “grasping John’s arm tightly and pinching deep his nails into his soft tissue” which would have left evidence of a mark), or accurately what has been reported as the father’s account of what took place.
    Also it would seem that the number of children Luanne Haygood has was reduced from the total of 7 at the time John Benjamin Haygood was taken into custody to 5 including JBH.
    How about we take a look at facts that can be supported? For instance, so far the boy had 55 incidents of aggression and violence at the school alone (not counting the fire his elder sibling reports on his social media was set at the home). This includes breaking bones, preparing for and then stabbing another classmate, and no less than twice threatening to return to the school with a gun and shoot people dead.

    Directly from the record of the initial court appearance that isn’t referred to in this article:

    “When talking about the incident that led to John Benjamin’s arrest, Mr. Albright said he has been able to document 55 incidents committed by the boy while in the Okeechobee school system. “That’s only physical aggression against the other children or faculty,” he noted. Some of the documented incidents include kicking, biting, spitting and punching. The prosecutor then offered a few specific incidents.
    • On one occasion, the boy kicked a male coach in the groin.
    • The boy punched another student in the face.
    • The boy stabbed another student with a pencil after he had just sharpened it and the pencil went through the other child’s jacket and punctured the skin.
    • The boy intentionally stomped on a female teacher’s foot while wearing steel-toed boots and broke three of her toes. “Then, when she returned to work, he stomped on her same toes and said she deserved it,” said Mr. Albright.
    • On two different occasions John Benjamin told teachers he was going to come back with a gun and kill them.”

    Take into account the lessons of recent history where individuals like Adam Lanza, Nikolas Cruz, and even James Egan Holmes and others presented clear observable early threats, where we can only look back in regret that despite those threats safeguards weren’t adequately enforced. The only requirement isn’t even a conviction , but an adjudication of incompetence. To not have the court take steps to adjudicate and prevent a recurrence of such tragic events, in light of blatantly threatening to return to a school and shoot people dead, would be an unimaginable and unforgivable act of negligence and sheer stupidity. Consider for a moment the possibility that John Benjamin Haygood were to return to the school at some point with a gun to make good on his threats. Why consider such a thing? Well, because it wouldn’t exactly be the first time, would it? What would the prevailing opinion be then seeing that authorities knew of the clearly stated unambiguous threats, and deliberately failed to act when neither a conviction nor incarceration is required to enforce those safeguards? The result would no doubt be an investigation to identify just who was the irresponsible moron this time.

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