13 year old autistic Max Benson died at Guiding Hands School after being restrained by a staff member in late November 2018. Now, the since-shuttered private school in suburban Sacramento, Calif., is facing criminal charges along with three former employees.
The defunct institution was essentially forced to close after state regulators set their sights on its certification in late 2018. After a series of court battles, the Golden State got its wish, though the school was awarded a temporary reprieve before finally voluntarily relinquishing his certification at first. 2019, a timeline of events provided by the Sacramento-based company ABC affiliate KXTV Explain.
For approximately 25 years, the private school has served the affluent, census-designated community of El Dorado Hills and surrounding school districts as a means for public schools in the area to serve students with special needs and their families. – some of whom expressed himself in support as the school was publicly criticized and eventually closed. Guiding Hands was later replaced by a similar entity providing similar services.
This week, the former principal Starrane Meyersex-teacher Kimberly Wohlwendand former site administrator Cindy Keller were charged with one count each of manslaughter by a “recently convened special criminal grand jury”, according to The Sacramento Bee.
The newspaper reportedly confirmed those indictments, the results of a “recently convened special criminal grand jury” with the spokesperson for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office. Savannah Broddrick Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Each of the three women had previously been charged with manslaughter in November 2019 – along with the company that owns Guiding Hands. The defendants were quickly arrested and pleaded not guilty. The trio were ordered by a judge not to teach or work with children in the meantime, as their case was dragging on procedurally.
This limitation of work was of particular importance to Wohlwend, the teacher accused of having actually started restraining Benson (after claiming he spat on another student). She continued to teach at another area school after the fatal incident, according to Stockton, Calif. CBS Affiliate KOVR.
The new indictments are currently sealed, the Bee reports, but a civil lawsuit filed by the boy’s family contains few details regarding the allegations. Wohlwend is accused of holding the schoolboy in a restraint position for almost two hours while others held down his legs in a so-called ‘dismounting manoeuvre’. The trapped boy continued to vomit and urinate during the ordeal, the trial would have saidwhile the school nurse reportedly took over 10 minutes to respond and employees waited 25 minutes after he was unconscious to call paramedics as he went into cardiac arrest.
Benson died two days later.
A 2018 report from the California Department of Education says school staff used “force that is neither reasonable nor necessary in the circumstances” for 105 minutes.
“Current evidence supports the conclusion that the actions of GHS staff were detrimental to the health, well-being and safety of a person with exceptional needs,” the agency said in a letter obtained by the Bee.
In April 2020, a plea deal was rumored, according to the Mountain Democrat. But these negotiations ultimately came to nothing.
“If a case doesn’t move, we can make a criminal grand jury to move it forward,” Broddrick told the Associated press – pointing out that the grand jury form used to obtain the supplemental indictments was separate and different from the normal procedure previously used.
Keller, Meyers and Wohlwend are currently due in court on September 2, 2022.
Law&Crime contacted the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office for comment on the case.
[image via screengrab/KCRA]
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