A 10-year-old special needs boy came home with bruises after he was restrained and handcuffed by a school resource police officer and now his parents are demanding an explanation.
Thomas Brown has autism and was subdued by a Denton Police Department cop, Officer Eric Coulston, at his North Texas school, according to his mother Emily Brown.
“It’s disgusting that this officer is put there to protect and serve our children, and he abused a disabled, little boy,” Brown, told Dallas–Fort Worth’s KTVT News. “He showed no compassion.”
Now, the parents are demanding the authorities investigate the matter and provide them answers about their son’s treatment.
Thomas was subdued, using excessive force, by the cop, on at least two occasions — April 23 and April 30 — but was only discovered by his parents after the second incident when they found bruises on Thomas’ back.
The parents then demanded the Denton Police Department release the body cam footage from the day of the second incident, which was provided to them by the authorities.
WARNING: VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED
The video starts off with Thomas climbing into a cubbyhole and refusing to come out, after a little back and forth, the teacher asks Coulston for help, who then scoops up clearly agitated a Thomas and takes him to another room.
“Do you want the handcuffs? Or not?” Coulston asks the child, who is reputedly screaming at the officer to “get off” to no avail, while he is pushed face down into the class room floor.
“We’re back to where we were the other day,” Coulston can be heard saying as he handcuffs the screaming boy. “Want to kick some more?”
The second footage, which is two hours long, showed Thomas’ struggle to get out of the handcuffs’ grasp.
At one point, the handcuffs were removed, only to be put on again after Thomas tore up a tissue paper and threw it at the teacher, according to the police.
While the child is clearly struggling, Brown said it was just because he was scared.
“He’s got a lot of anxiety because the very people that I told him to trust, he can’t,” she told KTVT-TV.
The bodycam footage, which becomes hard to watch in parts, evidently shows Thomas being handcuffed was not helping him calm down. However, The Denton Independent School District’s director of communications, Mario Zavala, told Huff Post the determination to restrain the child was made by the officer because Thomas put other students’ and his own safety at risk.
“In this instance, the school resource officer (SRO) made the determination, after all other efforts to de-escalate the situation proved ineffective,” Zavala said.
According to authorities, Thomas had caused disruption in class before Coulston subdued him. He allegedly swung a computer mouse at the teacher and spit and kicked the officer.
Brown, however, does not agree with the assessment.
“It’s abuse, the torture, and the hell that he was put through,” Brown told ABC affiliate WFAA, referring to the April 30 incident.
The Denton Police Department found Coulston did not violate protocol when dealing with Thomas.
“The decision to use restraints was made only when the child posed a serious threat to himself or others,” read the statement. “Once the child was calm, the restraints were removed.”
The Texas Education Code, in fact, permits school staff and resource officers to physically restrain special needs children but the practice is to be used under special circumstances, as in “to protect the health and safety of the student and others.” The restraints are also asked to be removed once the situation de-escalates.
Despite the permission to use restraints, The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is vehemently opposed to the use of it, claiming the practice often results in serious injuries and in some case, even death.
“Their use has injured or killed students in far too many cases,” Zoe Gross, the organization’s director of operations, told HuffPost. “Restraint and seclusion can also cause lasting trauma and prevent students from fully accessing their education.”
The Browns allege the situation could have been better handled had the school used intervention or other de-escalation techniques, instead of using handcuffs which resulted in bruising on Thomas’ body.
Thomas’ parents have removed him from the school and reportedly planning to file a lawsuit.
“This is about justice for Thomas,” Thomas’ mother told KTVT.
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