Three school employees will be charged with felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 13-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, who died last year after being restrained by staff members at his Northern California school.
Max Benson died on Nov. 30 after a teacher used a banned prone restraint and multiple school employees kept him facedown on his stomach for nearly two hours until he vomited and passed out.
The El Dorado District Attorney's office announced Tuesday that charges will be laid against Guiding Hands School, as well as against the school executive director Cindy Keller, school principal Staranne Meyers, and special-ed teacher Kimberly Wohlwend, who performed the restraint.
Guiding Hands School was a privately run and publicly funded school for special needs children. After Benson's death, multiple former students and parents came forward with claims that their own children had been held in dangerous restraints. The school's certification was suspended by California state authorities and it remains closed.
"This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student," said the district attorney's office in a statement.
Earlier this week, the family of Benson and carers of other children who attended the school, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of California against the school and employees — including Keller, Meyers, and Wohlwend — for the use of restraints against their kids.
Benson started at the school in June 2018, shortly after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, which the school was aware of, according to the lawsuit. It notes that the school and its employees were well aware of Benson's multiple behavioral and health issues.
The lawsuit alleges that Benson was held multiple times in a restraint during his time at the school, including for over an hour one week before his death.
On Nov. 28, the lawsuit alleges that school employees held him in a restraint for over an hour and a half, with various employees taking over at times to hold him down so others could go have restroom breaks.
After nearly two hours Benson vomited and lost consciousness, according to the lawsuit. It says that 25 minutes after he lost conscious, school employees called 911.
He died two days later after being declared brain dead from multiple organ failure and cardiac arrest.
The attorney for Benson's family did not respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for the three school employees could not immediately be located.