Boy with Autism Dies After Being Restrained at School; 3 Employees Charged with Manslaughter

Three California school employees have been charged after a teenage boy with special needs became unresponsive and died while in their care.

The three employees worked for the Guiding Hands School, Inc. According to People, they now face criminal charges after 13-year-old Max Benson died after he was being physically restrained at the school in November 2018.

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School Employees Charged with Manslaughter After Boy with Autism Died in Their Care

As the El Dorado County District Attorney revealed, Benson was restrained for roughly an hour before going unresponsive. Cindy Keller, executive director and site administrator of the school, Staranne Meyers, the school’s principal, and a special education teacher identified as Kimberly Wohlwend have all been charged with felony involuntary manslaughter.

In addition to those individual charges, Guiding Hands School, Inc has also been charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter, People reports. Prosecutors said in a statement:

“This charge is based on the November 28, 2018, prone restraint of a minor student by Kimberly Wohlwend that resulted in that student’s death. […] This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student.”

CBS News describes the educators’ behavior as “violent.” The California Department of Education said the educators allegedly involved in Benson’s death put him in a “face-down restraint position,” which is against state rules.

autism restrained school employees teen
CBS Sacramento

And in an open letter, Benson’s mom wrote that one teacher sat on Benson the entire time he was pinned facedown. She described the educators’ actions as “cruel and punitive,” alleging that it wasn’t just her son who endured this type of abuse.

Authorities revealed that after Benson became unresponsive a teacher attempt CPR on the teenager. However, Benson died at the UC Davis Medical Center two days later.

Family friend, Jennifer Abbanat, said in an interview with CBS Sacramento, “You send your kid to school expecting them to come home, no matter how hard of a day they had.”

Shortly after his passing, Guiding Hands School, Inc. had its certifications revoked by the California Department of Education and the institution was shut down. The school had been open for 25 years before this.

autism restrained school employees teen
CBS Sacramento

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Keller, Meyers, and Wohlwend were all arraigned on the charge against them on November 13. As Abbanat told CBS Sacramento, she hopes these charges will bring justice to Max and that it will make sure this never happens to another child again.

As People reports, a candlelight vigil for Benson will take place on the steps of the District Attorney’s Office on November 17 at 2:00 p.m. nearly one year after his passing.

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