LARGO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida sheriff has fired a decorated deputy who was recorded taunting an autistic student at the middle school where he provided security and guidance.
The Tampa Bay times reports Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired Deputy Ural Darling on Friday.
Gualtieri said Darling, a 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, took 13-year-old Evan Dowdy to the behavior therapist’s office at Osceola Middle School last May after the sixth grader threw a book at a teacher. The sheriff said the boy has the cognitive ability of a first grader and the communication skills of a kindergartner.
Darling, who had been assigned to the school for 16 years, berated the boy for 25 minutes in the office, ordered him to hold three to five books and throw them at him. When the boy complied, he told him to stop. He then taunted the boy with handcuffs and threatened to put him in a mental hospital for life, Gualtieri said.
The confrontation was captured on a recorder the boy’s mom, Megan Dowdy, placed in his pants because he had been acting out and she feared something was going on at school.
“It’s so unethical to treat anyone like this,” said Megan Dowdy, who teaches autistic pre-kindergarten children. “I could not believe what I was hearing.”
Darling received a commendation last year for saving the life of a woman who collapsed at the school. He was Florida’s 2011 school resource officer of the year and his personnel file contains 60 letters of praise from Osceola Middle School staff. Darling doesn’t have a listed phone number.
Gualtieri said Darling insisted he acted appropriately when confronted with the recording.