When 10-year-old John Benjamin Haygood and his mother Luanne were called in to Florida’s Okeechobee Achievement Academy on April 12, they assumed they’d be there for a round of state standardized testing. Instead, John Benjamin ended the day sobbing, in handcuffs, as police escorted him away while Luanne filmed his arrest.
In footage of the incident, John Benjamin, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, is seen pleading with the officers, exclaiming at one point, “Please don’t touch me,” while choking back tears. “This is so fucking dumb, mama” he adds as the police handcuff him.
“He has autism. He doesn’t know what’s going on,” Luanne explains to the officers. “He’s scared to death. He’s 10 years old.”
John Benjamin spent the night in a juvenile detention center.
His arrest reportedly stemmed from an October 2016 incident, when he had an altercation with the special educator assigned to help him in school. (According to the Washington Post, he was being disruptive and began hitting and kicking his instructor when he tried to remove him from class.) The incident resulted in an outstanding warrant for battery on a school board employee, which the local sheriff’s office said is a felony. (John Benjamin, lest we forget, is 10 years old.)
His family, however, was allegedly never notified of the warrant; the arrest came as a total surprise.
Speaking with the Post, Okeechobee County schools spokeswoman Renee Geeting would not comment on the specifics of the incident, but insisted that the school system would never “invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.”
For Luanne Haygood, however, John Benjamin’s arrest pointed to a larger failing to adequately address the her son’s learning needs, which, she claimed, were in part responsible for the October incident.
“It’s nationwide, and these children are not getting the services they are guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” she told WPEC.
“If I let my emotions go, I’m going to lose it. I’m going to cry, cuss, rant and rave. Nobody will listen to me. ‘Oh, that’s the crazy lady’ or whatever,” she said in a separate interview with CBS Miami. “I want something done. I want other kids to not have to go through this.”
Autism Society of America President Scott Badesch has reportedly offered to help the Haygoods with legal services and support. He described John Benjamin’s arrest as “beyond wrong and evil” to the Post.
“It is a tremendous failure by two allegedly responsible institutions,” he explained. “The police and the school.”
John Benjamin is scheduled to be arraigned on May 11.