California School Employees Charged In Death Of 13-Year-Old Boy With Autism After He Was Physically Restrained

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An arraignment will take place today for three women involved in using banned restraining techniques causing a student’s death.

Almost a year ago, on November 28, 13-year-old Max Benson—who was autistic as well as suffering from the effects of a brain tumor—was struggling in the classroom and became violent.

His teacher, Kimberly Wohlwend, used a prone restraint on the student. It put him lying on the floor facedown with her holding him down from behind. Wohlwend traded off with other employees to keep him in this position for almost two hours, only stopping once Benson vomited and passed out.

The teacher and fellow onlookers waited 25 minutes before calling an ambulance. Benson was given CPR and taken to the UC Davis Medical Center.

Two days later, on November 30, Benson died in the hospital. He had been declared brain-dead after cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure.

Benson began attending the school after being diagnosed with the brain tumor. The school was aware of his diagnosis, as well as his health concerns and behavioral issues.

After Benson’s death, multiple other families came forward, reporting that their children had also been victims of the banned restraints at the school.

As a result, Guiding Hands School lost its certification and was closed by California state authorities. The school did not reopen, but another educational program has used the building since then.

Kimberly Wohlwend, the school executive director Cindy Keller and the school principal Staranne Meyers, will each be facing charges for their involvement in Benson’s death by inappropriate physical restraints and failure to act once it became clear Benson was in crisis.

The district attorney’s office stated:

“This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student.”

The lawsuit against the three former employees includes multiple offenses, including evidence that they used restraining techniques on Benson repeatedly throughout his time at the school, including one restraint that lasted for over an hour just one week before his death.

With the school already closed and without certification, Benson’s fellow students are undoubtedly attending new schools, let’s hope with better protocols in place for situations that arise in the school.

Hopefully, Benson’s family will get some closure. But nothing can ever return what they lost.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit