The staff used more than reasonable force during the incident, as per evidence found by investigators.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 26, 2022. It has since been updated.
Trigger Warning: This story mentions details of child abuse and ableism that may be disturbing to readers.
Max Benson, an autistic student, was only 13 years old when he was restrained by the staff at the Guiding Hands School, in El Dorado Hills. The incident took place in November 2018 when Benson was placed face down which ultimately resulted in his death.
A week after Benson's death, the school shut down, according to PEOPLE.
A criminal grand jury has indicted an El Dorado County private school and three of its staffers in the death of Max Benson, a 13-year-old student with autism who suffered fatal brain damage after being held face-down in a prone restraint. https://t.co/Pnekct0Vko #endseclusion pic.twitter.com/paIUsDbtP0— The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (@endseclusion) July 22, 2022
A grand jury indicted the school, along with all three of its former employees on charges in connection with the teen's death on July 15, 2022.
The Guiding Hands School, Inc., as a company, was indicted on a single count of involuntary manslaughter related to an incident that resulted in Benson's death, according to a spokesman for the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office. Wohlwend is expected to be arraigned Wednesday on felony involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as the school’s executive director, Cindy Keller, and its principal, Staranne Meyers, prosecutors said, reported New York Post.
Benson was restrained by Cindy Keller, the El Dorado Hills-based school's onetime executive director, Starrane Meyers, its former principal, and Kimberly Wohlwend, a special education teacher after he reportedly became violent. He had his face pressed down for over an hour after which he became unresponsive. He was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center after CPR was administered to him but he died two days later at the hospital.
The indictments come nearly four years after the death of Max Benson at the Guiding Hands school in El Dorado Hills. https://t.co/oqZGMHuwNd— The Sacramento Bee (@sacbee_news) July 21, 2022
The three defendants have not entered their not guilty pleas yet. Three years prior to the indictment, the school and the three staff members were criminally charged with a felony count of involuntary manslaughter. The three women were arrested in November 2019, following which they all entered not guilty pleas.
About a week after Benson's death, the California Department of Education suspended Guiding Hands School's certification, and the school was subsequently closed.
Investigators found adequate evidence that the teen was restrained “for longer than was necessary” and the staff used more than reasonable force during the incident.
“I haven’t done much except just cry,” the teen’s mother, Stacia Langley, told the New York Post of her past year.
3 former school employees were indicted in the 2018 death of an autistic teen Max Benson, 13, died two days after being restrained by school staff, according to officials. https://t.co/zub3DqGmUj— Giacomo Luca (@GiacomoLucaTV) July 23, 2022
Guiding Hands School, Inc. was a privately operated, publicly funded institution that was functional for more than 25 years until the day it was forced to close.
"We are relieved that justice will be served with the charging of those responsible for his death," said Attorney Seth Goldstein on behalf of Benson's family, according to KXTV.
The defendants, meanwhile, are scheduled to appear in court on September 2, 2022, for a pre-trial hearing.
Cover Image Source: YouTube | CBS Sacramento (Family, Friends Hoping For Justice For Max Benson)