How a Special Needs Kid Gets Handcuffed and Thrown in Jail "For Her Own Good"

Like nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorder, Krystin Polk regularly attempts to wander from supervised, safe places such as her home or school.

The 13-year-old is enrolled at the Magnolia School for special education students in DeSoto County, Miss. Enrollment is contingent upon having an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), which federal law requires for all special education students.

After Krystin ran away from the school twice in one day, Magnolia staff enlisted school resource officer (SRO) Robert "Scooter" Rayborn to help locate her. Before the day was over, Krystin would be in handcuffs.

Krystin and Krystal Polk holding hands

Although her IEP painstakingly details Krystin's behavior when forcibly restrained, Rayborn seized her by the arm, causing her to lash out and knock him to the ground. The officer then tackled her and dragged her off to a county detention facility.

Krystin's mother was surprised when she heard her daughter had been arrested after running away. "Her IEP clearly states that she runs, so I didn't understand why she'd be arrested for that," says Krystal Polk. That's when the teacher explained that Krystin had assaulted a police officer.

Krystal notes that the school itself did not press the charges; she says the decision to arrest and charge her daughter was made by Rayborn (under the auspices of the DeSoto County School District), who claimed that he detained the girl "for her own good."

"When I spoke to him, he said he had been watching Krystin and thought she was behaving abnormally," Krystal explains. He arrested her so he could "get her some help."

"How could he know she needed help?" asks Krystal. "He's not a psychologist."

Krystin Polk on swings

An hour after she spoke with Rayborn, Krystal reached the detention facility where he was taking Krystin, only to find they hadn't arrived yet. The drive shouldn't have taken more than 20 minutes.

When at last Rayborn showed up with Krystin, it was late in the day. With no one available to process and release her, she would have to spend the night in jail. In all, Krystin was detained for 24 hours.

At a court hearing several months later, the judge dismissed the charges, which by then had been changed from assault to disorderly conduct and failure to comply. "The judge said certain things were not handled correctly," says Krystal — an assessment supported by both the detention facility's intake officer and an ACLU attorney.

The incident is a microcosm of parallel issues that afflict U.S. public schools: over-policing and inadequate training for police officers charged with safeguarding students.

As reported by the ACLU in Policing In Schools:

[S]chool districts and law enforcement agencies often fail to pay sufficient attention to the ways in which policing in schools is unique; many have no formal governance document for these officers at all.

Krystal is now working with the ACLU to pass legislation requiring that Mississippi SROs be trained to deal properly with children who have autism or other special needs. She urges parents of children with autism to understand their rights and to stand firm. "Be an advocate for your child," she says, "because no one else will."

Krystal Polk while her daughter, Krystin, has fun on the playground

"A lot of parents don't want to speak up," Krystal adds. "They're scared of retaliation by the school district. But I know my rights, and I'm not afraid to fight for them."

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Anonymous

They're full of it, but I think everyone's full of it especially this morning. They'll go on and on about something like THIS and not even care about all the raging out-of-control gun violence - by "law-abiding" gun owners - as evidenced by them throwing temper tantrums about Universal Background Checks but then going all a Clockwork Orange about special needs people.

Last night we had three patients who were victims of gun violence, two of whom were dead before they even made it to Emergency and the third - an 8 months along fetus - who was in critical condition when I got off shift. He was being operated on because two of the six bullets that hit his mother had also hit the baby.
The one in the second case was shot more than 10 times by a "law-abiding" gun owner. When they went to find out who did it they found the weapon was registered in that person's name, making the ownership "perfectly legal."
If the stupid people supporting wanton gun violence - or not caring that it exists - ever admitted that NOT just everybody can handle owning a firearm and weren't always hell-bent on discriminating against someone who's not violent but has a "mental illness" we might actually be able to get somewhere. And maybe I'd see LESS of gun violence than I do now. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for absolute jackasses like Ted Nugent to care about anything beyond their own selves. But in the same token, they should be forced to look at all the fallout from their asinine attitudes.

Marilyn

Glad to see a parent standing her ground. It's important for parents with special needs children to assert their rights.

Marilyn

This is horrible! You should be able to trust your school with taking care of your children special needs or not. I hope they do pass a law and I hope other school systems will learn from this mistake.

Anonymous

This is horrible! You would hope that you would be able to trust your school system with your special needs child. I hope they do pass a law and I hope that other school systems can learn from this mistake. -Marilyn

AspieMom

My daughter with autism has been suspended twice this year for issues directly related to her disability. I've heard many stories like this from other parents and always feared it would happen to my daughter :(

Anonymous

In New Jersey at a school for kids with ASD, they had special training for police officers on awareness of autism and signs of wandering. They should do that nation wide. 1 in 68 kids are on the spectrum, everyone should be aware. Locking her up from 24 hours just for being herself is absurd. Things have to change.

Anonymous

It outrages me to know that children with special needs are treated in such a manner without any concern to their well being. He did more damage than good to this little girl.

Anonymous

24 hours in jail for a kid in these circumstanses is absurd, I can understand an hour or two just to keep her in a safe place until an adult can get her.

Anonymous

To Anonymous Number One. So you expect any gun lover to be concerned about those who are mentally ill? Guess what? I agree with you in that regard. Where we will likely digress will be in regard to the degree of "mental illness" you cite. Do you believe those who are mandated by their school by prescription to these wonderful medicines with such grave warnings embossed on the labels must give up their right to defend themselves to remain "stable" on them? Have you even asked yourself how many of today's cops, many fresh from overseas military duty, whom exercise extremely little patience as we've seen repeatedly in Albuquerque and elsewhere, actually USE medications as I've mentioned earlier. Now they will defer to their Union and written Law to defend their positions, but how about We The People? Where is OUR Union? Better consider the Ballot Box and the next time you're called to Jury Duty. I sure plan on either possibility.

ACLU Member Bef...

The ACLU helped Krystin Polk, and I support their actions in this case. However. . .

Why did the ACLU refuse to help another special-needs child, 15-year-old Justina Pelletier, who has been, for all practical purposes, a POLITICAL PRISONER of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families ever since Mass. DCF involvement was initially activated by the Harvard-affiliated Boston Children's Hospital in February 2013? (Since links are prohibited in ACLU comments sections, I encourage everyone reading this to conduct their own internet research).

If Justina Pelletier was a pregnant incest victim who needed a judicial bypass in order to obtain an abortion, I am almost certain the ACLU would represent her. If she was a "transgender" high school student who wanted to be recognized by her school system as a member of her non-chromosomal sex, the ACLU would probably take her case.
Compared to reproductive freedom and GLBT rights, patients' rights are essentially ignored by the ACLU. Why? Especially in this new era of "healthcare reform," patients'-rights issues are very likely going to become more predominant, not less.

Did the ACLU of Massachusetts refuse to represent Justina Pelletier because too many of their attorneys have connections to Harvard University?

The Justina Pelletier case is not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue.
It is a human-rights issue.

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