OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - City and state leaders are pushing for abusers of children and adults with special needs to receive harsher punishments.
A forum held at Gulf Hills Hotel in Ocean Springs addressed some of the changes officials and parents want to see made. "A 9-year-old autistic boy gets slapped in the face and what we can do for this-- misdemeanor," said Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence.
Lawrence was talking about a recent incident in Corinth, Mississippi. He said that case and an alleged incident at the Jackson County School District are examples of loopholes in our laws.
Right now, a civil lawsuit against the Jackson County School District alleges a teacher and her assistant grew angry with a special needs child and began screaming at her and hitting her and then stuck a rag in her mouth. "The law in the Lonnie Smith Act is to completely interfere. You have to completely interfere and what we saw in this case is they only put something in the child's mouth, where the child was still able to breathe through its nose. That's the problem. The law didn't handle that small part," said Lawrence.
Lawrence said he wants to see even partial obstruction of a child's airway considered a felony. He said attorneys at his office are researching laws from all over the country on abuse of special needs adults and children. He's hoping to draft a bill and bring it to the legislature.
"The law is something that we can use to protect these children," said Senator Brice Wiggins.
"I am the parent of a special needs child, nonverbal. I want to be able to know. She can't tell me and if something did happen to her and I did find out and we have the proof and it's on a bus recording, whatever the case may be I would hope that the laws would protect her," said Stephenie Bley who has a special needs child.
Lawrence said he also wants to see mental anguish of a vulnerable person considered a felony. Officials at the forum noted that if nothing is done, children and adults with special needs will continue to be victims of abuse and the law won't be able to protect them.
Senator Brice Wiggins urged parents to make sure they are attending their school board meetings to stay involved in what's going on.