KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Earnest Gathing Jr. said the last year has been an emotional rollercoaster for both his family and his 16-year-old son. They visit him twice a week at the juvenile detention center and said he’s ready to come home.
“Some days, laughter and full of jokes,” said Gathing about his son. “Some days he just shut down and don’t want to talk at all, just wondering why he still there.”
Gathing said he and many other people have that same question. His son, whom FOX17 is choosing not to identify because he’s a minor, got into trouble at school back on February 6 while he was on a 75-day pass from the juvenile home. Gathing said his son and a teacher at Kalamazoo Central High School got into a confrontation. He said it started when a substitute teacher asked his son to leave the classroom because he was in the wrong room. Then another teacher walked into the classroom and asked to see his son's ID card. He gave the teacher the wrong ID.
“The teacher went to grab it, from my understanding, bumped him in the chin,” Gathing said citing the police report. “My son told him don’t touch him no more. So it turned into a push fest.”
Gathing said his son told him he was pushed again and ended up putting the teacher in a headlock. Another student in the classroom captured the incident on their cell phone, which FOX 17 obtained via the Freedom of Information Act through the Kalamazoo Township Police Department. Gathing's son was arrested for assault with intent to cause great bodily harm.
“He just been incarcerated since then,” Gathing said. “They not giving him no bond. He has no outdate.”
He’s been at the juvenile detention center on Gull Road for eight months now, Gathing said. He felt that the case against his son should have been dismissed after a court-appointed psychiatrist conducted a competency exam and found his son to be incompetent to stand trial earlier this year.
“It actually stated that he wasn’t held responsible for his criminal actions,” Gathing said about the report. “Basically it stated his disability was a reason why a lot of this stuff was happening, if not all of it.”
Gathing said his son has an I.E.P., also known as an Individualized Educational Program. It's a developed and documented plan for public school children who need special education. His son’s I.E.P. states that he is emotionally impaired.
“He gets really emotional real fast,” Gathing said. “So it could be triggered by the simplest things especially if you don’t know how to deal with it.”
Since the first competency exam, the court ordered another one to be conducted. Judge Julie Phillps stating at the time that the initial report contained many inconsistencies.
"He should not have been locked up when the evaluations were done," said George White, director of Social, Economic and Educational Change. "So you know that's compromising."
White said he believes one of the biggest problems in the case was that the teacher was thrust into the role of the enforcer. He said that the teacher, and all school staff members, should be trained on trauma-enforced care.
“When you first initiate, get into the report, it seems as if this child was the problem,” White said. “But once you get into the prevailing number of statements that were given, and I think it was approximately 19 statements that were given, once you get into those statements you realize that this kid was a victim.”
White said he believes that the case has taken too long to move forward is because the student is African American and has a disability. He feels that the case should be tried in a mental health court.
“Disabilities prevail in this, in this whole process,” White said. “What the studies have shown is that African Americans are more likely to have these disabilities.”
FOX 17 reached out to Kalamazoo Public Schools and communications director Alex Lee stated via email that all of the special education teachers are trained to deal with students who have an I.E.P. The email read in part:
“Classroom management, verbal de-escalation, and dealing with difficult students are available to teachers in our professional development trainings. Special education paraprofessionals and campus safety go through yearly emergency restraint training.”
The Kalamazoo County Prosecutors office stated that there’s no limit to how many times a case can be adjourned. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.
“It seems like this should’ve been over with already,” Gathing said. “From the police report, from the statement, from his I.E.P., from his disability, it’s like this should’ve already been over with. For some reason it’s not. That’s very confusing."
As of Friday October 26, Gathing's son was found competent to stand trial. The judge stated that the two additional competency reports, conducted after the first one, indicated that the student articulated in detail what happened on February 6th at the school and understood the roles and functions of the court.