When Luanne Haygood saw that her autistic 10-year-old son John Benjamin Haygood was being arrested at his school, Okeechobee Alternative Academy in Florida on April 12, she began filming the scene. The video, which shows John Benjamin saying, “I don’t like to be touched,” has gone viral.
In the video, two Okeechobee County School Resource Officers are seen trying to arrest John Benjamin for allegedly attacking a paraprofessional educator in October 2016. John Benjamin had been expelled from the school and forced to complete the rest of his education at home, but Haygood didn’t now about the outstanding warrant for her son’s arrest, The Washington Post reports. John Benjamin was back at the school on April 12 to take Florida’s standardized testing.
The Autism Society of America told the Post that they have contacted Haygood and will provide services and legal counsel. They will also consider asking the U.S. Justice and Education Departments to investigate John Benjamin’s case.
Here’s what you need to know about John Benjamin and his arrest.
1. In the Video, John Benjamin Tells the Officers ‘I Don’t Like to Be Touched’
in the video, seen above, John Benjamin repeatedly tells the officers that he does not like to be touched. His mother can be heard asking if he has the same rights as an adult.
“This is so f***ng dumb, mama,” John Benjamin can be heard telling his mother as the offers put cuffs around him.
Haygood continued filming until her son was taken to a police cruiser outside the school. She asks the officers if she can get in the car with her son, but isn’t allowed to. He was then taken to a juvenile detention center.
“I asked, ‘Are you going to arrest him right now?’ She said, ‘Yes ma’am, we have to,’” Haygood told CB12.
“It was horrible,” John Benjamin told CBS12. “People kept cussing at me.”
John Benjamin had a hearing on April 13 and was released under house arrest.
2. John Benjamin Was Arrested for Allegedly Attacking a Paraprofessional in October 2016
John Benjamin was arrested for an alleged incident on October 27, 2016. According to the Washington Post, a probably cause affidavit says that John Benjamin was disruptive in class that day.
According to Court documents, obtained by the Post, John Benjamin refused to go to a “timeout place.” When the paraprofessional educator attempted to take him there, John Benjamin “started kicking and scratching and punching” the educator. The documents state that he then “wrapped his arms around the upper chest as to not restrict [John Benjamin’s] breathing.”
John Benjamin has been charged with battery on a school employee, which is considered a third-degree felony. For an adult, a third-degree felony can result in up to five years in prison, five years probation and a $5,000 fine if convicted.
Haygood told CBS Miami that John Benjamin was expelled in October, forcing him to be home-schooled for the rest of the school year. He went back to the school on April 12 to take standardized tests.
“To go and have him arrested on school grounds in front of other students, in front of personnel, during school hours, they could’ve come to my house at any time to tell me what was going on,” Haygood told CBS Miami.
3. The Sheriff’s Office Says No One Knew About John Benjamin’s Autism
The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office told WPTV that they were not aware that John Benjamin was autistic, even though the arrest warrant came from a teacher’s complaint. The State Attorney’s Office also told WPTV that they weren’t aware of John Benjamin’s autism, but will take it into consideration while handling the case.
As for the school district, they sent a statement to CBS12. Although they didn’t address the case specifically, the district said it “would not invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.”
Haygood believes that this shows that the county is not prepared for students with disabilities.
“It was because of his autism that spurred” the October incident, she told WPTV. “And he was arrested for that.”
4. Not Wanting to Be Touched by Others Can Be a Symptom of Autism
Being sensitive to touch or not wanting to be touched can be a symptom of autism. Haygood told the Post that her son was diagnosed with autism two years ago and was on an individualized education plan (IEP). He was assigned his own paraprofessional educator, but his mother said John Benjamin had frequent problems with him.
According to the National Autistic Society in the U.K., many people on the autism spectrum struggle with sensory information those without autism deal with every day. When it comes to the sense of touch, those who are over-sensitive could feel pain when touched. Others might only be able to handle certain fabrics.
Haygood also told WWLP that her son has had behavioral issues in the past that she believes are linked to his autism. “Unfortunately, instead of treating or accommodating, we arrest. Because we don’t know what else to do,” she told WWLP.
5. John Benjamin Will Be Arraigned on May 11
John Benjamin will be back in court on May 11, the Post reported. But his mother is not sitting by.
In addition to doing media interviews to spread her story, Haygood has been keeping her Facebook friends up to date and continues to seek answers from Okeechobee officials. On April 16, she wrote that the next school board meeting won’t be until May 9 and fears that her son’s education will go “down the toilet.”
“This child probably needs an advocate. There goes his education down the toilet,” Haygood wrote. “Will he ever catch up losing that much time? Now his parents are responsible for providing his education. and for what? I can only guess, so I won’t, I’ll just show up and find out.”