Two officials, teacher charged in autistic student’s death

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA (AP) – Two United States (US) private school administrators and a teacher are facing criminal charges in the death of an autistic student who was restrained for nearly two hours, prosecutors in Northern California said.

Former Guiding Hands School site administrator Cindy Keller, Principal Staranne Meyers and Special Education Teacher Kimberly Wohlwend were arraigned on Wednesday on one count each of manslaughter in the November 28, 2018, death of 13-year-old Max Benson, the Sacramento Bee reported.

District attorney’s officials said lawyers for the three were cooperating with prosecutors.

The names of the attorneys were not immediately available.

Benson became unresponsive while being held in a “prone restraint” for nearly two hours at the school and died a day later at a hospital, authorities said. State education regulators found evidence that staffers at the El Dorado Hills school used an unreasonable amount of force and put Benson in restraint for longer than necessary.

Stacia Langley holds a photo of her late son, Max Benson, next to a tree he grew from a seed in his grandfather’s backyard in Davis, California. PHOTO: AP

The staff’s actions were harmful to the health, welfare or safety of the student, the state inspection said.

A separate civil lawsuit filed against Guiding Hands on behalf of Benson’s family and other families of Guiding Hands students alleges Wohlwend held Max’s upper body while other staff members took turns holding the boy’s legs down.

Prone restraints are used in California schools, often on students with special needs, but legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last month allows the state Department of Education to suspend or revoke a school’s certification if a student’s health or safety is being compromised.

Stacia Langley, the boy’s mother, told the newspaper she wanted to protect other people from experiencing a tragedy like her son’s.

“Max would want to protect other kids,” she said. “He wanted to be a hero. He’s finally going to be a hero.”