Archer High School

Autistic students’ suit claims arrest violated rights

Lawyers for a set of brother and sister twins are suing Gwinnett County, Gwinnett County Schools and a Gwinnett County police detective alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution and a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act after the boy was held in jail nearly two months on charges of rape and incest that were later dropped.

The 20-year-0ld twins both have autism spectrum disorder. The condition affects how they communicate with and relate to others. They both have difficulties understanding some types of spoken language as well as inferred meanings, tone of voice and other cues. They also have difficulty expressing themselves because it’s hard for them to provide sequences of events and/or finding the right words to explain their thoughts, the suit says.

The complaint filed Friday in federal court alleges that when Detective Jonathan Leach interviewed the sister, two years ago, he was informed she was disabled beforehand but didn’t speak to her father nor to her special education teacher to determine her ability to communicate.

Both twins were students at Archer High School, and their troubles began with a blackmail attempt in January 2017 against the boy by another student. The suit says the other student claimed to have a tape of the twins having sex.

The school investigated, found the male twin innocent of wrongdoing and punished the blackmailer. But On Jan. 26, 2017 a counselor found out the twins had a middle-school-age sister at home. She referred the matter to the Department of Family and Children Services, who called on Detective Jonathan Leach to investigate.

The counselor was present when Leach interviewed the girl in February 2017, but she’s not one of the twin’s teachers and didn’t know her communication abilities. During the interview, she asked Leach to call her father, but, according to the complaint, he refused.

The female twin said several times that there was no inappropriate physical contact with her brother.

When their father brought the male twin to Gwinnett Police Headquarters to speak to Leach, he maintained his innocence and invoked his right to an attorney, but Leach arrested him on felony charges of incest and rape, the complaint alleges.

He was granted bail on April. 14, 2017, but wasn’t allowed to return home. The Gwinnett County District Attorney’s office said that was done in an abundance of caution.

“We didn’t want to put anyone in danger,” said Marlene Oldeen, assistant D.A. “Most cases against a sibling, parent or anyone living in the same house is difficult. We couldn’t have the accused in the same house as the alleged victim.”

On June 2, 2017, the D.A. dropped the charges.

“There wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed,” said Oldeen. “We took everything into consideration and didn’t believe there was a case.”

According to the suit, the male twin suffers emotional distress including anxiety and depression as a result of his two-month incarceration.

It contends the sister wasn’t provided with adequate accommodations to ensure that communication was effective during Leach’s interview, which violated her rights under the ADA.

Gwinnett County didn’t return an email request seeking comment.

Gwinnett County Police said it can’t comment on an ongoing lawsuit concerning the agency.

Gwinnett County Public Schools responded similarly, but did explain its policy on police interviews of students.

“Our Child Abuse Protocol, signed by the Chief Judge of Superior Court, controls procedures for interviews of child victims or critical witnesses,” said spokeswoman Sloan Roach in a written statement. “Per the protocol, these interviews are to be conducted by law enforcement investigators and the police investigator, not the school, will ask the student if they wish to have a school employee present in the interview and will contact parents following the interview.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.