May 21, 2024

The parents of a boy with special needs last month filed a lawsuit claiming a school resource officer at North Augusta High School assaulted and arrested their son without cause in 2021.

The boy’s mother, Sylvia Brannon, claims her son was trying to pick up his lunch from the school’s front office on Aug. 27, 2021, when a North Augusta Public Safety officer tackled him to the ground.

Attorney Tyler Bailey, who is representing the family in the lawsuit against Aiken County Public Schools and North Augusta Public Safety, said the boy is autistic and struggles with descriptive language and communication.

“He was just simply picking up his lunch, something that kids do everyday at school,” Bailey said. “He didn’t audibly respond to the officer, but any child at public school who is on the spectrum has an Individualized Educational Plan, so it’s up to the school to make sure that all personnel know what children are going through.”

Brannon said her older son, who was attending North Augusta High School as well, called to tell her what happened.

“I was in the house doing laundry when I received a phone call from my oldest son and he said, ‘Mom, you need to get to the school now. Something is going on with my brother,'” Brannon said. “I asked what was going on and he said, ‘I don’t know. He’s in handcuffs.'”

Brannon said she immediately ran out of the house to tell her husband and when they arrived at the school, she saw her son in the back of a police car.

“He was handcuffed and crying,” she said. “I asked them what he was charged with and he immediately called for backup. When they arrived, they pulled their guns out on me and that’s when I put my hands up and stood in front of my son.”

The family said administrative staff in the front office during the altercation were aware of the boy’s needs and asked the officer to give the boy his lunch, but the request went ignored.

“In this situation, the officer not being trained or having the ability to deal with special needs kids, escalated the entire situation,” Bailey said. “Anytime a young Black kid is put in handcuffs, it’s a big deal, especially when they’re innocent. It’s something that’s never going to be erased from his mind.”

The boy was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, but the charges were later dismissed.

The suit claims the officer, Jason Pearce, used excessive force and did not have probable cause for the arrest.

Brannon said Pearce is still working at the school.

The family said the school is “ill-prepared to properly care for special needs students and that [Brannon] has repeatedly had to stand up for her son and protect him from harm while at the school.”

The Brannons are seeking damages for gross negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.

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Officer’s history at North Augusta Public Safety

Officer Jason Pearce was hired by North Augusta Public Safety in January 2003, according to records from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.

Pearce worked as a corrections officer with the department for more than 15 years before transferring departments, becoming a law enforcement officer in March 2019, according to records.

A NADPS spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that Pearce is still employed by the department and there has not been any disciplinary action taken against him related to the filed lawsuit.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Parents of autistic boy in North Augusta sue police, school district

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