ORLANDO, Fla. - The DeLand Police Department has reviewed the handcuffing of a 12-year-old autistic student, and ruled it within protocol, though the officer was punished for other actions.
Last month, Danielle Torres’ son A.J. experienced a mental health crisis at DeLand Middle School. According to the police report, he was aggressive toward others and battered multiple staff members. He also allegedly tried to leave campus and run into the street. Body camera footage shows the moments the school resource officer approached the boy.
After a brief tussle, the body camera of the officer fell off. The rest of the exchange can only be heard from that point. The next visual update comes minutes later when the boy is seen in an office where those in attendance attempt to calm him down. The behavior displayed by A.J. is common, according to his mother.
"He suffers from elopement which is running, so he runs from his problems. He is autistic. He has DMDD, which is disruptive mood [dysregulation] disorder."
In a statement released on Wednesday, a spokesperson with the DeLand police department confirmed, the officer followed the proper procedures while restraining the boy. There were, however, issues with some of the things the officer said.
The DPD statement continued on as follows:
"It was also determined that the officer made insensitive and unprofessional comments to the student contrary to his training. The officer was issued formal discipline in the form of a written reprimand. Proper progressive disciplinary procedures were followed to include the officer being required to be re-trained on de-escalation techniques to meet our standards."
At this time, it is unclear what specific statements warranted the reprimand. The officer could be heard using profanity as he subdued the kid. At other points in the footage, he can be heard making sarcastic statements, as the child sat handcuffed on the floor.
As Torres watched the video for the first time, she became emotional. She told FOX 35 News she wanted the officer to take a more compassionate approach. "I cried, I got mad, I called back to the school," she said.
A.J. was transferred to the hospital under the Baker Act but was later released.
The entirety of the statement is included below:
"On September 12, 2023, a School Resource Officer assigned to DeLand Middle School responded to an incident involving a juvenile attempting to run off campus who had battered several staff members and was making threats to harm himself and others.
The student ran out of the school’s front gate and into the parking lot where the SRO was able to capture the juvenile in an attempt to safely secure him.
The student was secured in handcuffs to avoid causing harm to himself or others. Due to the nature of the incident, the student was taken into protective custody under the Baker Act before being transported to Halifax Behavioral Health.
As a result of an investigation initiated by our department by the officer’s supervisor including reviewing the body-worn camera, it was determined the officer followed proper procedures to secure the student to ensure his safety and keep him from running onto the road.
It was also determined that the officer made insensitive and unprofessional comments to the student contrary to his training. The officer was issued formal discipline in the form of a written reprimand. Proper progressive disciplinary procedures were followed including the officer being required to be re-trained on de-escalation techniques to meet our standards.
The DeLand Police Department has had positive communication with the mother of the juvenile, and she was assured the officer was reprimanded. "