After Autistic Boy's Death, Felony Charges for School

Max Benson died after employees held him down
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2019 9:19 AM CST
School, Employees Charged in Death of Boy With Autism
Guiding Hands School special education teacher Kimberly Wohlwend, far left, principal Staranne Meyers, center, and site administrator Cindy Keller, right, are arraigned on involuntary manslaughter charges in El Dorado Superior Court in Placerville, Calif., on Wednesday.   (Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

Three employees of a now-shuttered California school for students with special needs have been charged with manslaughter in the death of a boy with autism. Max Benson, 13, died last November after he was physically restrained for nearly two hours at the Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento. Employees "performed a 'takedown' maneuver" before restraining Max so that his face was against the floor and his arms held at his sides, according to a civil suit. Denied a bathroom break, the boy, who'd allegedly spit at a classmate, urinated on himself and vomited before falling unconscious on Nov. 28, the suit reads, per the Sacramento Bee. It took another 30 minutes before paramedics were called, according to the suit. Max died two days later at a hospital after being declared brain dead.

The district attorney said Tuesday that the restraint resulted in Max's death. The California Department of Education found he'd been held too long and with more than reasonable force, per KXTV. The school—which lost its certification within a week of the death, per People—is charged as a corporation with felony involuntary manslaughter. Teacher Kimberly Wohlwend, executive director Cindy Keller, and principal Staranne Meyers could face up to four years in prison if convicted of the same charge. "We are relieved that justice will be served with the charging of those responsible for his death," a lawyer for Max’s family tells KXTV. An attorney for the school, however, says Wohlwend, Keller, and Meyers have "dedicated literally their entire lives to working with special students" and are "a treasure to the community." (Read more manslaughter stories.)

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