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7-year-old boy with autism handcuffed, held on floor by school resource officer

A lawsuit by the boy's mother accuses the officer of an "unreasonable use of force" and inflicting "unnecessary and wanton pain" on the child.
/ Source: NBC News

A North Carolina boy with autism was handcuffed by a school resource officer and held on the floor for nearly 40 minutes, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the boy's mother.

The suit was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina and accuses former Statesville Police Department officer Michael Fattaleh of an "unreasonable use of force" and inflicting "unnecessary and wanton pain" on the child during a 2018 incident at the Pressly Alternative School in Statesville, about 50 miles north of Charlotte.

Fattaleh worked at the school as a school resource officer.

The child, who was identified in the court documents by the initials L.G., has suffered emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the incident, according to the lawsuit.

The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education and the city of Statesville, which are named as defendants in the suit, did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday.

Efforts to reach the Statesville Police Department and Fattaleh for comment also were not successful.

Fattaleh's attorney, Ashley Cannon, said in a statement that her client's interaction with the boy was in response to a "report involving a student." Cannon also said a probe of the incident by the state Bureau of Investigation was conducted and did not result in any criminal charges.

"Interim Police Chief David Onley and District Attorney Sarah Kirkman requested the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation of the matter. The investigation was completed and there are no active investigations or criminal proceedings related to the matter," she said.

Fattaleh was put on administrative leave shortly after the incident, his lawyer said, and later resigned from the Statesville Police Department.

The lawsuit states that the child has autism and "significant impairments" that affect his ability to communicate and express his emotions.

He was 7 years old on the day in September 2018 when he was moved to a "quiet room" at the school following "a number of incidents in L.G.'s classroom involving other students."

He had been in the quiet room several minutes when Fattaleh came into the room saying that as he was walking past he witnessed the child spit on the floor, the suit states.

"L.G. did not look up, speak, or make any movement when Officer Fattaleh entered the room," the lawsuit states. "Immediately, Officer Fattaleh declared 'he’s mine now,' and placed L.G. in handcuffs. L.G. did not resist."

The officer was accused of forcing the child into a kneeling position and threatening to put a spit hood on him, according to the suit.

"Officer Fattaleh repeatedly grabbed L.G.’s upper arms tightly from behind, forcing L.G. into an even more restricted position. Officer Fattaleh then forced L.G. to lay down face down on the floor, while handcuffed," the lawsuit alleges.

The child was restrained on the floor for over 38 minutes, the suit says, adding that during that time, Fattaleh twisted the boy's arm causing him to cry, and threatened to charge him with a crime for spitting.

"If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be shortly," Fattaleh said to the boy, according to the lawsuit.

As the boy pleaded to be let go, the officer allegedly placed his knee on L.G.'s back, according to the suit. The child was not allowed to get up until his mother arrived at the school, the suit says.

The incident was caught on the officer's body-camera and footage published on the site of NBC affiliate WRAL in Raleigh shows the officer grabbing the boy's arm. At one point, the child is seen lying on the floor with a pillow under his head and his hands cuffed behind his back.

NBC News has not independently obtained this video and does not know what occurred prior to the events shown in the footage.

"Can you breathe?" Fattaleh is heard asking the boy at one point in the video.

The suit claims that Fattaleh knew the child had special needs and that a teacher explained to him that L.G. was just "over-stimulated."

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