BOCA RATON, Fla. (WPEC) - A local family is speaking out after they say a School District Police Officer unfairly invoked the Baker Act and took their child away from school in handcuffs.
Larissa Leander has been helping her immigrant friend, Ayme, take care of her son Erik for years.
Because Ayme's English is not strong, Leander often helps her navigate school meetings for 11-year-old Erik who is on a special 504 learning plan at Omni Middle School in Boca Raton.
Last Thursday, Leander says she and Ayme received a call from the school that Erik had been in a fight waiting for the special needs bus.
"I was frantic," Leander said. "I was out of my mind. I left my work and ran there. I told them don’t take him anywhere, I will be there in 10 minutes."
When Leander and Ayme arrived, the women asked to see Erik, but say that school officials couldn't locate him right away.
"I was asking 'where is Erik where is Erik?' But nobody seemed to know," Leander recalled. "They were scattering to find him."
Leander and Ayme were shocked to learn that the sixth-grader was with a school police officer, who decided to invoke the Baker Act and send Erik to the hospital in the back of a police car.
"I just kept asking to see him, and he told me 'you can meet him at JFK,'" she recalled.
Leander and Ayme rushed to JFK medical center where they say Erik was stripped naked and evaluated. And though the visit only lasted a few short minutes, Leander says that the entire experience still haunts him today.
"He's traumatized, he's withdrawn, he’s always under his hoodie, having nightmares," Leander said.
CBS12 News reached out to the school district for comment. Though they couldn't answer specific questions about the case, they say "a student is subject to a Baker Act only when the officer feels that the child is a threat to himself/herself, or others."
A spokesperson for the district says that the Baker Act is invoked in situations where mental health is a factor.
In Erik's case, they say the school police officer acted appropriately.
"In cases in which a Baker Act is initiated, it is standard practise to review the officers decision," A spokesperson for the district said. "The recent case, to which you are referring, has been reviewed by School Police. The review indicates that the officer acted in accordance with policies."
Attorneys for Erik's family disagree.
"I’ve been in practice here over 35 years and I’ve never heard of such a thing," Ken Ronan, an attorney for Lavalle, Brown & Ronan told CBS12 News.
"They had no reason to do it. Medical staff called it absurd and released him immediately," Ronan said.
This is the second time in two weeks that a family of an Autistic child has come to Ronan seeking justice.
And as he begins to explore legal avenues to help the families, Ronan says he can't help but notice a pattern.
"It would appear knowing what we know on the surface at this point... Omni is dangerous for 504 kids. Something has to be done."
Leander and Ayme have decided to keep Erik home from school since he's too scared to go back to Omni. They say they hope to enroll him in a special needs school soon, and want to shed light on the issue so that this doesn't happen to any other families.