Tyeisha Harmon says she's been given conflicting stories about why her son was handcuffed and carted off to a mental health facility

By Rachel DeSantis
March 10, 2020 05:10 PM
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Belcher Elementary School
Credit: Google Maps

A Florida mother is searching for answers after her 7-year-old son was handcuffed in a school parking lot and sent to a mental health facility without her knowledge.

Tyeisha Harmon tells PEOPLE her son Rashaun, who has special needs, was in class at Belcher Elementary School in Clearwater on Wednesday, March 4 when she got a phone call telling her to come pick him up.

Harmon says the school is well aware of Rashuan’s different diagnoses, and that he’s extremely sensitive to change and tends to react “negatively.” That’s what happened when he was placed in a different classroom that day.

“I didn’t get to talk to him, but they called me and said, ‘Hey, we need you to pick up Rashuan because he’s wandering around,’” she recalls. “I said, ‘Is that all he’s doing? Is wandering around? I said, ‘Is he being aggressive or anything like that?’ And they said no. I said, ‘Okay. I’m on my way.’”

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Harmon says she was about a 20-minute drive away, but by the time she arrived, Rashuan was no longer there, as he had been taken to a mental health facility under the Baker Act, which “enables families and loved ones to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness, and who are unable to determine their needs for treatment,” according to University of Florida Health.

She says she was “thrown” by the fact that her son was restrained under the Baker Act, and quickly shifted gears, contacting the facility to try to arrange for his release, as people under the act are typically held for 72 hours.

At that point, she says, she received a call from the school police officer who had dealt with her son — and got a very different story from what she initially heard, which was that he had simply left the classroom and was wandering the parking lot.

“She said, ‘I did it because he was getting aggressive, and he scratched me,’ and she said it was either the Baker Act, or [she was going to] press criminal charges,” says Harmon. “I said, ‘A 7-year-old? Because he scratched you? As a police officer? So you decided to do that?’”

Harmon says she was able to get in touch with staffers at the facility her son was taken to, and she arranged for his release. He was back in his mother’s arms after about four and a half hours and a psychiatrist screening.

She says it was only then that she learned he’d been handcuffed amid the chaos.

“I took him to his favorite restaurant and we were sitting there, and then he handed me his wrist over the table and he was like, ‘Mommy, look! They handcuffed me and it scratched me,’” she says. “He told me, ‘Yeah, they threw me on the ground, and they put the handcuffs on me and then they threw me in the back of the car, and I was calling for you.”

“I was so upset,” she adds.

At a meeting with the school principal the next day, Harmon says she was told the Rashuan was “kicking cars” and refused to respond to the police officer’s calls, which was why he was handcuffed.

“That’s not grounds to do that to a child,” she says.

In the week since, Harmon says she’s made efforts to get in contact with the school to obtain a report or video footage of the incident, but has yet to receive a response. She says she’s also made unsuccessful moves to have the district transfer him to a different school.

The Pinellas County School District did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but told ABC affiliate WFTS in a statement that the boy was “restrained for [his] own safety and the safety of others.”

“The student was engaging in dangerous activity that could have hurt the student or others. Please know that restraint of students is only used as a last resort when other interventions have not resolved the issue,” the statement read. “The safety, health and well-being of our students and staff is our highest priority.”

Still, Harmon argues that her son posed no threat to anyone.

“He wasn’t a danger to anybody,” she says. “He was dealing with nothing but adults, and there were no other students or anything like that. He’s not suicidal, he’s not homicidal, he’s just a kid who doesn’t understand how to process his emotions.”

“School resource officers honestly need better training in how to deal with kids, adults, anybody with mental health issues,” she adds. “Because they just arrest them and send them to people who have that experience, instead of trying to get the training that they need to be able to deescalate situations.”