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Autistic child arrested at school threatened with more charges

Child in court after arrest at school. WPEC

Thursday afternoon, John Benjamin Haygood had a status update hearing in Okeechobee.

The 10-year-old Haygood was arrested in April after a teacher says he punched and kicked him.

Luanne Haygood, the boy’s mother, recorded the boy getting arrested at the school on her cell phone. A video that got national attention.

In that cell phone video you hear Luanne say, “He has autism. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s scared to death. He’s ten-years-old.”

During Thursday’s hearing, the state made it clear, prosecutors don’t want this case to go to trial. They offered the boy’s family another option, threatening if they don’t take it, more charges could be added.

They offered the family, once again, a diversion program.

“No matter what services are offered, none are going to address his issues at school,” said Stephanie Langer, Haygood’s attorney.

Langer said the solution is to take the criminal justice system out of the mix.

“I haven’t seen anything in the department of juvenile justice that’s actually going to address the problem which is how they’re reacting and acting in school. We’re not going to cure him of his disability,” said Langer. “He needs an evaluation to determine if he has a learning disability. He needs a behavioral program that actually is designed to help him an not escalate him. He needs an IEP, which is an individualized education plan.”

The family still plans on taking this case to trial.

If they do that, the state said on Thursday they’ll most likely add more felony charges, but didn’t give specifics.

“Legal bullying. I don't think it was appropriate to say that in open court. I don't think it's a way to get someone to take a plea,” said Langer.

When the prosecutor made this statement in court, Luanne Haygood shook her head, showing her frustration. However, she said she’s more concerned about where her son is going to school in the fall.

“I’m doing my part but I'm not getting a response from the schools at all,” said Haygood.

She said homeschooling is not an option.

“That’s a way for the school to not ever have to change and that's generally what people do, take ‘em out of school because they get tired of this,” said Haygood. “I choose not to and I don't have to. I'm a single mom and I'm working full time. I don't think it's in his best interest.”

The next hearing is scheduled for July 20th at 2 p.m. Langer said they are preparing for a September trial.

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