The mother of a North Carolina boy with autism has filed a lawsuit after a school resource officer handcuffed and held her 7-year-old son on the ground during a 2018 incident at an alternative school in Statesville.
The city of Statesville has since released body camera video depicting then-Statesville Police Officer Michael Fattaleh, who served as a school resource officer at the Pressly Alternative School, responding to an event involving the student. The body camera footage was obtained by CNN affiliate WSOC through a court petition.
The boy was enrolled in a day treatment program located at Pressly Alternative School, which is affiliated with a non-profit behavioral and mental health provider, due to his special needs, according to the lawsuit.
“Officers assigned to Pressly were aware that children at the day treatment program had special needs, and suffered from an array of developmental, mental health and behavioral issues, including autism,” the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, on September 11, 2018, the boy became “agitated and verbalized being stressed out,” and was subsequently brought to the school’s “quiet room” by his teacher to minimize stimulation and allow him to calm down in a safe environment.
The lawsuit alleges that Fattaleh then abruptly entered the room, claiming to have seen the boy spit on the floor as he walked past. Body camera video shows Fattaleh then forcing the boy into a kneeling position, with his arms pinned behind him, saying “if you spit on me, I’m going to put a hood on you.”
The lawsuit alleges that Fattaleh restrained the 7-year-old in metal handcuffs, on the ground, for more than 38 minutes, at one point stating “Have you ever heard the term babysitter? I take that term literally, my friend.”
“If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly,” Fattaleh can be heard saying on the video. “You ever been charged before? OK, well you’re fixing to.”
During other moments of the incident, while the 7-year-old is lying face down on the floor, with his hands cuffed behind him, Fattaleh appears to check on the boy’s well-being, asking “Can you breathe?” and “Are you hot? Are you warm?”
When the boy’s mother arrives, the officer tells her that her son “is going to be charged with one count of assault, maybe two,” the video shows.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to hold Fattaleh liable for inflicting “unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering” on the boy, saying he suffered “severe and permanent psychological injuries and was forced to endure extreme pain, suffering, and emotional distress and mental anguish together with a total deprivation of his rights guaranteed him by the Constitution.”
Interim Statesville Police Chief David Onley initiated an internal affairs investigation of the incident, the Statesville Police Department said in a statement.
Onley and District Attorney Sarah Kirkman requested the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to carry out an independent probe of the matter. “There are no active investigations or criminal proceedings related to any events depicted in the video,” the police statement says.
According to the city, Fattaleh has resigned from his position and is no longer working with the police department.
“The Statesville Police Department stresses its commitment to serving the community and our schools and will continue to build trust with the students, parents and staff,” the statement added.
An attorney for Fattaleh, Ashley Cannon, issued a statement saying, “On September 11, 2018, he responded to a report involving a student,” and that the independent investigation of the matter requested by the interim police chief and the district attorney “was completed and there are no active investigations or criminal proceedings related to the matter.”
CNN has reached out to the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with Fattaleh and the city of Statesville, for comment.