Mother files lawsuit after school resource officer handcuffs 7-year-old son with autism

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — A Statesville mother is furious about how a school resource officer treated her son, who has autism.

Channel 9 had to go to court to get body camera video released.

The incident took place on Sept. 11, 2018 at Pressley School in Statesville.

School Resource Officer Michael Fattaleh responded to a call from staff members who were restraining a seven-year-old boy with autism, because he was spitting.

“Don’t move. Spit on me, and I’ll put a hood on you,” Fattaleh said.

Fattaleh’s body camera footage shows he put the student in handcuffs then staff put a pillow under his face and took off his glasses.

“Can you breathe?” the officer asked.

The student was on his stomach on the floor, and his arms were behind his back.

“If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly,” Fattahel said. “You ever been charged with a crime before? Well, you’re fixing to be.”

At times, Fattaleh could be seen holding onto the boy’s arms.

“You ever heard the term babysitter? I take that term literally, my friend,” he said.

At other moments, he asked if the child is comfortable.

“Are you hot? Are you warm?” he said.

After nearly 25 minutes of being restrained on the ground, the boy starts to cry and tells the officer to get away.

A half hour after he was handcuffed, his mother arrived and picked him up off the floor.

“I was enraged, infuriated and just devastated,” said the mother, who did not want to be identified.

The mother told Channel 9 she chose Pressley School because she hoped staff could care for her son’s special needs.

“He had some pretty severe separation anxiety,” she said.

She was outraged when she saw what happened to her son, who she described as intelligent and verbal, but was also scared.

“The staff and the officer, while he was basically torturing my son, talked about the upcoming hurricane, the effects of that and football,” she said.

Attorney Alex Heroy filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the city of Statesville, Michael Fattaleh and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education claiming constitutional violations, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

“The officer’s job as a school resource officer is to make sure the kids, teachers are safe and to inflict harm on a student for what’s perceived as a minor issue is inexplicable,” Heroy said.

Channel 9 learned the SRO was never formally charged.

Fattaleh no longer works for Statesville police, because he resigned.

The State Bureau of Investigation conducted an independent investigation.

The district attorney said after reviewing it, she found insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Fattaleh committed a crime.

While the Iredell-Statesville school officials could not comment on the incident, they provided a statement to Channel 9: “We strive to evaluate our processes and improve every day. We are eager to work with community agencies and partners to provide the best environment possible for every student.”

The boy hasn’t been back to school, and his mother had to quit her job to homeschool him.

His mother said he struggles with fear and aggression.