Veteran Pinellas school resource officer fired for taunting child with autism

The sheriff's employee taunted an autistic student, according to his superiors.

LARGO, Fla. - A PInellas County Sheriff's Office school resource officer with 22-years experience was fired today for taunting a child with autism, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Ural Darling, 57, the school resource officer at Osceola Middle School for 17 years, encountered the 13-year-old student on May 15 after he threw a book at a teacher, Gualtieri said. As Darling walked the student to the behavioral specialist's office, he yelled at the child and told him to put his hands behind his back while spinning his handcuffs with his hand, Gualtieri said. 

"He was taunting the kid," Gualtieri said.

A recording device placed in the child's pocket by his mother due to increased meltdowns, as well as video from inside the school, captured the incident.

Once at the behavioral specialist's office, Darling made the child stand in the room with his hands out and placed books on his hands, Gualtieri said.

"At that point, deputy Darling began to challenge the child as he's standing there with his books in his hand, to throw the books at him," Gualtieri said. "And then when the child does begin to throw the books, then he commands him not to throw the books.

While 13, the student has the cognitive level of a first grader and communication skills of a kindergartner,  Gualtieri said.

"And he told the child he was going to put on the handcuffs 'real tight,'"  Gualtieri said.

During the five minute episode, Darling also yelled at the child, threatened to take him into custody under the Baker Act and said he would take him to a mental hospital and that he would be there forever, Gualtieri said.

Part of the audio from the incident was played during a press conference:

The child's mother, once hearing audio from the incident, contacted Pinellas school board members, who then contacted the sheriff's office.

"During the investigation, deputy Darling was unapologetic for his actions," Gualtieri said. "He maintained that what he did was appropriate, including telling this 13-year-old that he was going to put him in a mental hospital for the rest of his life. He maintained that his tactics and techniques were appropriate but also admitted he had never been trained to act the way he did."

Darling has received training on how to work with children with autism, Gualtieri said. He was also the state School Resource Officer of the Year in 2011 and was credited last year with saving the life of a woman who collapsed at the school and had no pulse, according to our news partners at the Tampa Bay Times.

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