NorCal School Faces Charges in Death of 13-Year-Old Student With Autism Who Teacher Restrained

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A Sacramento-area school for special-needs students and its administrators will be charged this week in the death of a 13-year-old student who was restrained by a teacher last year, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Kimberly Wohlwend, the teacher involved, will be charged in the case along with the now-shuttered Guiding Hands School, its former Principal Staranne Meyers and Executive Director Cindy Keller, according to the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office.

All four defendants face one count each of felony involuntary manslaughter.

The boy, Max Benson, was identified by his family, who said he had autism. He died last year on Nov. 28, days after he lost consciousness and was hospitalized following the on-campus incident.

Prosecutors allege Benson died after Wohlwend placed him in a "prone restraint," with the boy pinned down facing the ground.

A California Department of Education found the restraint method violated numerous state laws and was not in line with Benson’s behavioral intervention plan. The staff's actions "were harmful to the health, welfare and safety of an individual with exceptional needs" and Benson "required intervention strategies that were not used," according to a report from the agency.

Guiding Hands School — which was privately operated but publicly funded — closed permanently last December after the Department of Education suspended its certification.

The campus had specialized in educating students with needs so exceptional they couldn't attend public school, the DA's office said.

Prosecutors say they decided to file charges in the case after a long, multiagency investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding Benson's death.

The four defendants are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

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