Parents Blame School for Disabled Son's Death

     ATLANTA (CN) - Parents claim two special education teachers assaulted and battered their disabled son so badly he died from the abuse.
     Ronald and Arthalia Hatcher sued the Fulton County School District, the Fulton County School Board, Fulton County Superintendent Robert Avossa, special education teachers Melanie Pickens and Katherine Dorn Durden, and 15 other Fulton County public school employees, in Fulton County State Court.
     The Hatchers say their son Aaron, a special-needs student, suffered abuse at the hands of his public schoolteachers, Pickens and Durden.
     "Aaron suffered from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities," the complaint states. "As a result of his disabilities, Aaron could not walk or talk, and had other serious developmental issues and was unable to care for himself and required constant care and supervision."
     The Hatchers say they enrolled Aaron in public school to give him "as normal a life as possible."
     But they say instead of caring for him, Aaron's middle school and high school teachers abused him physically and emotionally.
     They claim Pickens confined Aaron in isolated places, physically restrained him and screamed at and berated him to punish him for "expressing himself," and that Durden placed a homemade neck brace around his neck to restrain him.
     "Unfortunately, the Hatchers' trust was misplaced," the complaint states. "Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, Aaron began suffering abuse within Fulton County schools as far back as 2004. From 2004 to 2007, Aaron was a student at Hopewell Middle school, where he was in defendant Melanie Pickens' classroom.
     "Ms. Pickens abused Aaron and other special needs students in her classroom physically, verbally and emotionally. Ms. Pickens' conduct was investigated and her treatment of students was known to the school board. Nevertheless, plaintiffs were not made aware by the Fulton County School District of the abuse suffered by their son.
     "Unfortunately, escaping Hopewell Middle School did not mean Aaron's abuse would end. Aaron suffered still more abuse at the hands of his special education teacher at Roswell High School, defendant Katherine Dorn Durden. It was while Aaron was in Mrs. Durden's class that the plaintiffs first became aware that Aaron had been mistreated at Hopewell Middle School.
     "While in Mrs. Durden's class, Aaron came home with bruises on his back and hands, making it clear that he was not being properly secured in his chair. Further, and without parental or medical consent, Mrs. Durden took it upon herself to twist and then constrain Aaron's neck in a makeshift neck brace apparently because she did not like the way Aaron was forced to twist his neck in order to breathe. While a student in Mrs. Durden's class, Aaron was repeatedly rushed to the hospital from school as a result of the abuse.
     "Plaintiffs repeatedly sent messages to the school about Mrs. Durden. They requested that Aaron be moved into a different special education class and had meetings with the principal, all to no avail.
     "Tragically, Aaron died on March 19, 2011 following the abuse he suffered at Roswell High School. Further compounding this tragedy, plaintiffs only found out about the earlier abuse by Ms. Pickens after Aaron's death, despite the fact that the Fulton County School District had previously completed their own internal investigation which confirmed the acts of abuse against Aaron in middle school. Had they known, as school board personnel knew, that their extremely fragile son had suffered such abuse within a Fulton County school's special education class, they would never have allowed him to enter Roswell High School, and Aaron might still be alive today. The teachers, paraprofessionals, medical personnel, administrators, and board members of the Fulton County School District repeatedly failed Aaron Hatcher and his parents, and the Hatchers have paid the ultimate price."
     The Hatchers claim: "Defendants knew or should have known that defendant Melanie Pickens had no training or other credentials equipping her to teach students with severe special needs and that she was routinely and systematically abusing the children in her classroom," but failed to act.
     They add: "It is nearly impossible to put into words the utter and complete terror Aaron must have felt as he was screamed at, isolated, and berated by defendant Melanie Pickens or how terrified he must have been when defendant Katherine Dorn Durden repeatedly cut off his airway with her homemade neck brace."
     The Hatchers seek compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent hiring and retention, constitutional violations, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and Georgia laws.
     They are represented by Jarrod Oxendine, with Oxendine and Sauls.