Father questions police, school after teen with Down Syndrome accused of sexual assault

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WARNING: This article comprises an allegation of sexual assault. 

Wes remembers how he picked up the cellphone and froze as he listened to his son’s excessive school principal.

His son Matthew, then 16, was accused of sexual assault by an instructional assistant, and she or he had gone on go away.

Matthew has Down Syndrome and his medical data, shared with CBC News, point out he’s non-verbal and has the emotional and psychological capability of a five-year-old. That means he didn’t have the flexibility to know what he was doing.

CBC has agreed to not use the household’s final identify to guard the boy’s future prospects. 

The incident would upend the routine Matthew had grown to rely upon, forcing Wes to argue with police, rent a lawyer, and pull Matthew from school for the rest of the yr. 

“It’s been a battle. At instances you need to hand over, however all of us labored laborious to guard Matt, and that is what we’re right here for — he is our son,” Wes mentioned.

“I’ve at all times had quite a bit of respect for police, however when a scenario like this occurs, it disappears.”

The allegations 

On Nov. 24, 2021, Matthew got here house with two studies from Hillcrest High School in Ottawa as a substitute of the same old single file. The extra report says he had grabbed an academic assistant’s buttocks seven instances. 

A day later, the principal known as to comply with up, and Wes mentioned he was not totally stunned by the outline of Matthew’s behaviour.

“Anytime he appears like he is left alone or one thing, he’ll simply go up and contact any person simply to get some response,” Wes mentioned, including his household had additionally seen an analogous sample at house a number of weeks earlier. 

“Like he’ll simply give me a hug and he’ll contact down decrease than he is imagined to,” Wes defined. “We by no means thought something was flawed with that on the time.”

Wes acknowledged the touching was “inappropriate,” so the household had begun working with Matthew to cease the behaviour.

“We’d at all times say, ‘No touching,'” Wes mentioned.

For most of the individuals in Matthew’s orbit, this was a piece in progress. Though the teen was caring and compassionate, intellectually he was greater than a decade behind his bodily improvement.

Wes mentioned the general public school’s developmental disabilities program had appeared well-equipped to deal with his son’s particular wants. Staff had efficiently dealt with different behavioural points prior to now.

A latest turnover of instructional assistants meant the boy was dealing with new workers. 

Wes mentioned his household spent months preventing school officers and police over the best way they dealt with an incident at his son’s school. (Jean Delisle/CBC )

A day after the principal known as, police knowledgeable the school they have been investigating after which one week later, an officer known as Wes searching for Matthew.

Wes mentioned the officer knowledgeable him he was searching for Matthew to cost the teen with sexual assault.

“I mentioned, ‘No, you are not going wherever close to my son,'” Wes recalled, main him to rent a lawyer.

“They do not know who Matthew is, by no means got here to see Matthew — if he even has that capability to do one thing like that.”

Matthew has many hobbies, says Wes, together with taking part in music. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Wes mentioned the officer advised him he was conscious of Matthew’s incapacity, however was transferring ahead with the cost anyway, and another particulars in regards to the investigation could be withheld till that point. 

“I discover that very weird,” Wes mentioned.

Uncertainty and anxiousness over potential felony prices hung heavy over the household for practically three months, Wes mentioned, however finally police relented.

Neither the Ottawa Police Service nor the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board supplied CBC with feedback on the particular case, citing privateness issues.

The household has additionally by no means realized the id of the accuser.

In an emailed assertion to CBC, the power mentioned it takes all complaints critically and investigates them absolutely. 

“If proof helps it, prices are laid. Other resolutions to prices could also be thought-about on a person foundation,” the assertion learn.

‘Safety protocol’ concerned padded stick

The household wished Matthew to return to class, and in January 2022, Wes mentioned the school and police have been working collectively to convey his son again to class.

He remembered being given two choices: ship Matthew to a specialised school, or comply with a brand new “security protocol” to be able to preserve Matthew within the public school system.

That protocol concerned a stick with padding on the tip to maintain Matthew away, Wes mentioned, which was agreed upon by school workers.

Matthew practises his writing. He now attends a unique public school in Ottawa the place his father says {the teenager} is prospering. (Jean Delisle/CBC )

“It was a bunch of individuals. And not one particular person stood up and mentioned, ‘Hey, that is flawed … It’s 2022, that should not occur.'” Wes mentioned.

Matthew’s mother and father mentioned they determined to tour two specialised amenities, however did not really feel their son slot in. The mother and father finally determined to drag their son from Hillcrest and home-school Matthew for the remaining of the school yr.

Wes mentioned in a subsequent assembly with a school board superintendent, he was advised workers had not adopted correct school process.

In an emailed assertion, the OCDSB mentioned it could not focus on “particular person workers or college students or points involving a minor and the justice system.”

Instead, the board supplied a common rationalization of its coverage across the use of “private protecting gear” (PPE) in circumstances the place “an worker might expertise hurt within the course of their work with a scholar.”

Standard measures embrace growing a “security plan,” coaching, guaranteeing communications units can be found to summon help when required, and additional consultations with “multi-disciplinary workforce members and specialised groups from central departments.”

“In restricted circumstances, after different affordable measures have been thought-about and applied, different varieties of gear could also be supplied,” the OCDSB assertion learn. “A range of PPE is accessible, together with arm guards, shin guards, impression gloves or jackets.”

The assertion didn’t point out sticks. 

Matthew’s household continues to kind a decent bond round him to assist help his development. (Jean Delisle/CBC )

Not the suitable method: advocate 

Some authorized and incapacity rights observers query the best way police and school directors dealt with the case. 

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society says whereas it respects the suitable for people to lodge complaints once they really feel violated, there are different methods for the school to handle conditions like this.

Executive director Laura LaChance mentioned protecting gear, reminiscent of a padded stick, is a extra frequent device for kids with autism who can turn into aggressive, however as a substitute she urged setting agency boundaries and reinforcing them.

“We don’t [see a padded stick] as an appropriate methodology for making this a teachable moment,” mentioned LaChance.

“At school and at house, there must be repetition. There must be apply. … There must be fixed reminders.”

LaChance additionally burdened the necessity for empathy when dealing with teenagers with particular wants. Those who cannot specific themselves verbally usually depend on motion as a kind of communication.

“Is this baby within the behavior of hugging his friends?” she requested hypothetically. “What occurs when a baby with Down Syndrome is small and cute? But they develop as much as be furry boys. It’s not so small and cute anymore and it is inappropriate.”

Hard case to strive criminally

In June, six months after Matthew was first accused of sexual assault, Wes mentioned police supplied to take the potential cost all the way down to a warning. The father was glad, however he thinks a warning continues to be too far.

I simply need [a child with special needs] to be acknowledged as a human being.– Wes

“[Police] didn’t do [their] job, the school didn’t do their job,” he mentioned.

Criminal lawyer Cassandra DeMelo, who is predicated in London, Ont., and never concerned on this case, mentioned even when police have been to cost Matthew, it could be a troublesome case to prosecute. 

She mentioned police and the Crown sometimes search for two parts: actus reus, which asks if the act occurred, and mens rea, which asks if the particular person has the psychological intention to commit the act. 

“When you are speaking about somebody with Down Syndrome who has an working capability of 5 years outdated … if I’m the police, I’m critically questioning whether or not or not mens rea will be made out,” mentioned DeMelo.

“I’m unsure that this case would have ever gotten earlier than a decide.”

New school, new hope

With the assistance of a school board superintendent, Matthew began attending a brand new school in September and it has made a “large distinction,” in response to his dad.

“He’s received these academics popping out, ‘Hey man, how are you there?” High-fiving them,” mentioned Wes, including his now 17-year-old son is doing higher socially, too.

Wes mentioned he is sharing his household story so an analogous scenario doesn’t occur with one other baby with disabilities. 

“I simply need them to be acknowledged as a human being.”


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