BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Attorneys for a 7-year-old autistic boy who was handcuffed and held to the floor for 38 minutes by a Statesville police officer at Pressly School have begun taking depositions as they prepare for a possible trial in federal court.
Charlotte attorney J. Alexander Heroy, who represents the child and his mother, filed the civil lawsuit against the City of Statesville, former Statesville police officer Michael Fattaleh, the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education and two I-SS employees last December seeking damages for negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery and false imprisonment. The lawsuit also seeks unspecified punitive damages.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth D. Bell has scheduled the case for trial on September 19, 2022.
“The judge is moving things along,” Heroy said in an interview. “It is moving along quickly.”
The lawsuit stems from an incident at Pressly School on September 11, 2018, in which the child, who is identified in court documents as “L.G.,” was restrained by Officer Fattaleh. The entire incident was captured on video.
The 7-year-old boy, who has been diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorders, mental disabilities, learning disabilities and behavioral disabilities, had been moved to a “quiet room” by Pressly staff to help him calm down when the officer entered the room and announced “he’s mine now” and placed L.G. in handcuffs after apparently seeing the child spit on the floor.
According to the lawsuit, school staff who were trained specifically to work with children with behavioral issues had informed another resource officer at the school that they had the situation under control and did not need assistance from law enforcement as they helped L.G. calm down.
Nonetheless, Fattaleh placed the 80-pound child in metal handcuffs, grabbed his arms “tightly from behind, forcing “L.G. into an even more restricted position,” according to the lawsuit. “Officer then forced L.G. to lay face down on the floor, while handcuffed.”
After the officer told the child he was going to be charged for spitting, I-SS employee Colleen Guerin informed Fattaleh that L.G. was “seven years old, autistic, and simply over-stimulated,” according to the lawsuit.
The officer continued to restrain the child for a total of 38 minutes and at one point placed his knees on the boy’s back and taunted him. “Have you ever heard the term babysitter?” Fattaleh asked. “I take that term literally, my friend.”
At another point while the child was restrained, Fattaleh twisted L.G.’s body to one side, causing the child to yell out in pain: “Ow! My knee! My knee! It really hurts!”
Fattaleh responded to the boy’s cries by saying, “Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it?” The officer then began discussing football and the weather with Guerin, the I-SS employee.
After being restrained for 25 minutes, L.G. asked the officer to “let me go.”
Fattaleh responded to the request by saying, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” and then twisted the child’s body to one side, causing him to “begin crying hysterically,” according to the lawsuit.
After L.G.’s mother arrived at the school, another officer removed the handcuffs from the child and released him.
She took L.G. to Davis Regional Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with “multiple abrasions, scratches and bruises” on his arms, back, abdomen and wrists, according to the lawsuit. The child also had a “thumb print shape bruise on the inside of the right arm.”
In addition to those injuries, the child continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and, according to his attorney, has not been able to return to school. He has received and will continue to receive medical treatment and services for the physical and psychological harm he suffered in this incident, according to the lawsuit and the child’s attorneys.
“The facts in this case are horrendous,” Heroy said. “He has really suffered, and the whole family has been absolutely disrupted.”
After being placed on administrative leave by the city, Officer Fattaleh resigned his position on September 18, 2018, one week after the incident.
The lawsuit claims that, among other things, the City of Statesville “failed to implement adequate policies with respect to proper use and application of force, when to intervene in situations involving students in a school setting, and how to interact with an respond to children with autism and special needs.”
As a “direct and proximate result of Officer Fattaleh’s excessive use of force, L.G. “suffered severe and permanent psychological injuries and was forced to endure extreme pain, suffering, and emotional distress and mental anguish,” according to the lawsuit.
Nancy Davis, spokeswoman for the City of Statesville, said that city officials, including Police Chief David Addison, would have no comment on pending litigation. City officials have not provided information in response to a public records request for information about how much the litigation has cost city taxpayers.
In a ruling this summer, Judge Bell dismissed the case against the Board of Education but denied a motion to dismiss the case against Guerin and Manners.
“The Board is pleased with the federal court’s decision to dismiss in its entirety the civil complaint filed against the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education,” Superintendent Jeff James said in a statement. “The federal court affirmed the Board’s intent to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for its students. We continue to focus on meeting the needs of our students and greatly value the ongoing support of our students, parents, and community.”
I-SS has spent approximately $13,000 for attorneys fees and other legal expenses as a result of this lawsuit. Its insurance carrier is funding the cost of the legal defense for Guerin and Manners, who are still employed by the district.