School accuses 14-year old non-verbal Autistic girl of felony - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

School accuses 14-year old non-verbal Autistic girl of felony assault

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HAMILTON - AL -

   Jenny Holcomb says she couldn't believe it when Marion County sheriff deputies appeared out of nowhere to serve her court papers, charging her 14-year old autistic daughter, Emily with First-Degree felony assault on a teacher.  An injunction was also obtained, barring Emily from returning the school indefinitely.

  Holcomb says it all unfolded at Hamilton High School in October while she was there on a unrelated matter with her daughter.  Little did she know, the system's superintendent, Ryan Hollingsworth had filed a First Degree Felony Assault complaint on Emily on behalf of her Special Education teacher.

  During the alleged assault on October 26, the teacher reported Emily hit and pushed her resulting in a 'mild injury'.  In the complaint, Superintendent Hollingsworth noted its happened on more than one occasion.

  Emily's mother says it was a violent act but just Emily's way of expressing frustration.  "You have think about it -- she's trapped inside that body.  And when people can't understand her it gets frustrating."

  Emily's mother and her attorney -- James Gallini question the timing of the charge.  Gallini says they had just settled an agreement with the school system to provide Emily's teachers a professional aide "for training, dealing with her level of autism," said Gallini.  He believes the charge was an effort to get out of and circumvent the costly agreement.  "At that point, it took it out of the special ed into the juvenile system."

  ABC 33/40 faxed to Superintendent Hollingsworth a letter seeking either an on-camera interview or written responses to a number of listed questions related to the criminal complaint he filed and the community's concerns.

  By phone, Hollingsworth stated he was prevented by law from discussing a juvenile's (Emily's) record and file...but would try to answer the questions as best he could.

  ABC 33/40 received an emailed statement consisting of two generalized paragraphs of which Hollingsworth said, "When we believe we have a student who in our opinion, is a threat to students and staff, we may involve the juvenile court system for assistance."

  Emily's mother questions if her daughter is such a threat -- why did the superintendent wait a week to file the complaint and not express concerns to her first.   In the statement to ABC 33/40, Hollingsworth noted, "We investigate the matter and react in a timely manner to address safety concerns." However, its not clear whether that was direct response to the timing question.

  Emily's attorney Gallini has filed a complaint regarding the case with the State Board of Education.

  Meanwhile, Emily remains homebound with a professional aide at the school system's expense.  However, Hollingsworth declined to comment on the cost.  ABC 33/40 has learned the homebound situation will continue until an evaluation can be done to determine whether Emily is competent enough to stand trial on the criminal charge.