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Bainbridge Island boy experiencing anxiety episode at school was locked in back of police car

The incident involved a 9-year-old boy who was in the middle of an episode of anxiety, according to his mom. He was placed in the back of a police car.

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — The Bainbridge Island School District is asking an independent investigator to review an incident that happened at an elementary school last month. 

The incident involved a 9-year-old boy who was in the middle of an episode of anxiety, according to his mom. He was placed in the back of a police car. His family says police should never have been called.

"I have not watched the video. I cannot. I cannot watch it,” said Lindsey Woolsey. Woolsey is referring to the police body camera video recorded on the morning of the incident, Feb. 28. "My husband has watched it over and over and over again just to get the minute by minute."

Eli, her 9-year-old son, has been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety, according to Woolsey.

“It's a particular type of anxiety that when induced by stress, he goes into a flight-or-fight acute stress response,” Woolsey said.

Eli attends Ordway Elementary. Police were called and told that he ran from the school to a church parking lot next door.

Woolsey says her son manages his episodes by finding a safe space.

“Staff know that Eli needs space,” said Woolsey. “He verbalized, 'Leave me alone,' and that's what he needed. He has been taught that that is a tool. He has been taught to find a safe place.”

Just after 9:30 a.m., police officers arrived at the school.

"Hey Eli, Hi, its Bainbridge Island Police Department. What's going on today,” an Officer asked. "You are not in any trouble. We are here to help you, just here to help you okay."

For five minutes, police officers and school employees were talking with him. His episode continued, as he kicked and told them to ‘go away.’ 

Then Eli was locked in the back of a police car.

"I am going to just set you down,” the officer said. “I promise it will be okay. You are okay."

It's where Eli stayed for about ten minutes, at times crying and screaming loudly. Then his mom arrived.

In the video, Woolsey can be heard telling the school principal, "You do not have permission to call 911 in our emergency plan. I did not approve it. I need my child.”

"I remember finally the door opening and saying Eli you are safe with me. You are safe now,” said Woolsey. "I had to get him out of there.”

"The safety concern was the student was off the campus and you know, near the road and in a parking lot,” said Dr. Peter Bang-Knudsen, the Superintendent of Bainbridge Island School District.

Dr. Bang-Knudsen called it a complex situation and said the district is looking at it from a compassionate lens.

Woolsey says she believes the school broke the state law which says, restraint or isolation of any student is permitted only when reasonably necessary to control spontaneous behavior that poses an imminent likelihood of serious harm.

"I think our staff are doing the best they could in this situation, but it is one of the reasons why we're asking an investigator to look into all the different components both before the filming happened, as well as during the incident,” said Dr. Bang-Knudsen.

The City of Bainbridge Island and its police department issued a statement that says, “We are aware of a video circulating on social media involving an intervention in a school-related incident. Officers were called to assist in a situation concerning the safety of a student who left school grounds. As with any incident of this nature, the circumstances and response are being reviewed, and we are working with the school district. Because the matter involves a juvenile, no additional information can be released at this time.”

"I was terrified that my child was locked in a police car because no child should be locked in a police car," said Woolsey. "There is no other way around that.”

Woolsey says some parents plan to bring their concerns about what happened to the next school board meeting on Thursday night.

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