Three employees of a Northern California school for special needs children will be charged with felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of Max Benson, a 13-year-old autistic student.
Benson died in the hospital last November 30, two days after several employees of Guiding Hands School used a prone restraint to hold him face down on his stomach for hours. The dangerous restraint has been banned in other states, but not in California.
The El Dorado District Attorney said charges will be filed against Guiding Hands School Principal Staranne Meyers, Executive Director Cindy Keller and special-ed teacher Kimberly Wohlwend.
“This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
Guiding Hands School is no longer in operation. After a number of parents and former students came forward with their own claims of the school using restraints on children, the state suspended the school’s certification.
Benson’s family has also filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming that last November 28 several employees held the boy down for about two hours, with staffers taking turns restraining him so they could take restroom breaks.
The suit says Benson vomited and lost consciousness, but that school employees waited 25 minutes before calling 911.
Furthermore, the family says Guiding Hands was aware of Benson’s behavioral and health issues, including that the boy had been diagnosed with a brain tumor just before he started attending the school.
According to BuzzFeed News, the California Department of Education sent a letter to school executive director Keller stating Benson was restrained “for longer than was necessary” and “with an amount of force which is not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
The letter read, “Current evidence supports a finding that GHS staff’s actions were harmful to the health, welfare, and safety of an individual with exceptional needs.”
Max Benson Death: Sources
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