Educators Charged In Death Of Teen With Autism Restrained At School
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — El Dorado County prosecutors have formally filed involuntary manslaughter charges against administrators and a teacher at the El Dorado Hills non-public school where a student with autism died after being restrained face down for hours by staffers, El Dorado County District Attorney’s officials said this week.
Three staffers at troubled Guiding Hands School — school site administrator Cindy Keller, Guiding Hands principal Staranne Meyers and Kimberly Wohlwend, the teacher accused of being among those who restrained 13-year-old Max Benson — were arraigned Wednesday in El Dorado Superior Court in Placerville. A separate civil lawsuit filed against Guiding Hands also alleges Wohlwend restrained Benson with the help of other teachers.
District Attorney’s officials on Tuesday said attorneys for the three were cooperating with prosecutors.
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Meyers, Keller and Wohlwend were also named in a civil suit filed Nov. 7 against the school and several employees. The suit also names Davis Joint Unified, Elk Grove Unified and Amador County Unified school districts — districts that had contracted with Guided Hands for education services — along with the California Department of Education and special education administrative bodies in Yolo and Amador counties.
The civil suit filed on behalf of Benson’s family and other families of Guiding Hands students alleges Wohlwend held Max’s upper body while other staff members Jill Watson, Betty Morgan and Le’Mon Thomas took turns holding Max’s legs down.
The suit states that the staff “imposed a prolonged prone restraint on Max and failed to render competent medical aid to Max.”
Max was restrained face down for one hour and 45 minutes. The state Department of Education said in 2018 the school staff used “an amount of force which is not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
The suit alleges staff members took no steps to ensure that Max was released from a hold, nor did they check on his medical condition and that it took 10 minutes for a school nurse to arrive after Guiding Hands staff called for help. Paramedics weren’t called until nearly a half hour after Max lost consciousness, plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit.
Paramedics were called to the school at 2:03 p.m., “25 minutes after Max was rendered unconscious,” the suit read.
When paramedics arrived, they found that Max had no pulse and was not breathing. He was pronounced dead from multiple organ failure and was declared brain dead the following day at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
Guiding Hands has been the subject of several state investigations over its treatment of students with special needs, court documents and state records have shown. In January, state education officials de-certified the school. It closed later that month.
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