A 6-year-old boy with autism was handcuffed by a school resource officer for being disruptive. His mother is outraged and demanding changes.
Marisela Villa is doing everything she can to raise her son Elias right.
“Elias is very lovable, and he has his days where he doesn’t want to listen,” said Villa.
Last Friday, he was being very disruptive in a computer lab at Zolfo Springs Elementary School.
“Child was out of control, on the ground, bashing their head, kicking and screaming,” described Capt. Paul Davis with the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office.
The SRO wrote in an incident report: “The child was not responding to any of the commands from either teacher. I also observed the child was banging his head backwards onto the floor. The floor in this classroom is concrete and I was afraid the child would hurt himself.”
At one point, a teacher went to get Elias’ father at the front of the school. The SRO was alone in trying to control the child, so she placed handcuffs on Elias to restrain him.
“When my husband told me, I just started crying! I was working and I couldn’t hold back the tears,” recalled Villa.
The SRO stated in the incident report: “It was very difficult for me to control the child alone as the child is large in size (approx. 100 lbs). The child continued to pull away from me, still trying to kick me and stomp my feet. At one point the child attempted to grab my gun from my duty belt.”
“How could they do this? How could they think it was okay for a 6-year-old child to be handcuffed? I didn’t understand,” said Villa.
‘Even if he touches [the gun,] he can’t take it out. He doesn’t know what it is. He might think it’s a play gun. He doesn’t know what it actually does,” Villa said.
“[The SRO] is trained to handle bigger people. She is trained to handle adults. My child weighs probably less than a hundred pounds. I can pick him up.”
The Hardee County Sheriff’s Office supports the actions of the SRO.
“It became necessary to restrain him. As soon as they did, it stopped, so it was in the best interest of the child. We don’t make a common practice of this,” said Capt. Davis.
“As soon as the handcuffs were put on the child, he immediately quit screaming, he calmed down.”
Capt. Davis feels the SRO followed protocol.
“She used good judgment; the child could have busted his head open. We have a responsibility to keep the children safe, to keep the teachers safe, the officers safe,” he said. “We are there to help them, not hurt them and that’s what we was doing.”
Villa is trying to find a new school for Elias.
She says the superintendent has yet to reach out to her.
She hopes changes come to the Hardee County School District.
“I would like to see teachers and parents….trained to know how to deal with a child with autism,” said Villa. “There [are] options. You don’t handcuff a 6-year-old child.”
8 On Your Side made numerous attempts to contact the school district. They did not respond to our request for comment.