PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A mother’s intuition led to the firing of a school resource officer in Pinellas County, according to deputies.
Deputy Ural Darling, who is assigned to the school resource officer unit at Osceola Middle School, is accused of improper misconduct with a 13-year-old boy with autism. Darling was named the state’s School Resource Officer of the Year in 2011.
The child’s mother, Megan Dowdy, told deputies she noticed something was wrong with her son when he started having meltdowns in January. She decided to place a recording device in his pocket on May 15, and on that same day, something disturbing happened.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the child, who has the cognitive abilities of a first grader, and the communications skills of a kindergartener, was acting out in class that day and allegedly threw a book at a teacher. Darling came to the classroom to remove the student and is seen on surveillance video leading the child through a hallway toward the behavioral specialist office as he spins his handcuffs and taunts the child, telling him to put his hands behind the back.
“I am not playing with you anymore,” Darling is heard shouting in audio recordings played at a press conference Friday.
“We ain’t even got through first period, and already with the dumb crap, man,” he told the child. “You throw, and I’m going to put these cuffs on you, do you understand?”
“This is what you’ve been wanting, right? You want me to throw handcuffs on you?” He threatened to put the handcuffs on really tight.
When the deputy and the child were inside the office, in the presence of the behavioral specialist, the deputy continued to threaten the child. He took somewhere between three and five books from a shelf, made the boy stand and hold them, then he challenged the boy to throw the books at him. When the child followed his orders, he demanded that he stop, deputies said.
The behavioral specialist seemed unmoved by the alleged misconduct and calmly addressed the child. “We’re not doing this anymore. The only way you get to get out early is to be a good student,” she said.
“I need to take you to the mental hospital,” Darling said. “Are you ready to go to a hospital?,” he continued, threatening to Baker Act him. “I’m going to take you in a car, and take you way out there, and they’re going to keep you,” he said. “Is that where you wanna stay for the rest of your life?”
This went on for approximately 20 minutes, then the mom came to pick up the child, Gualtieri said.
Once at home, the mother listened to the recordings and contacted the sheriff’s office, which opened an investigation.
When questioned by detectives, Sheriff Gualtieri said Darling was unapologetic and maintained that he had responded to the situation appropriately. He also said he hadn’t had enough training to be able to handle the child.
The case was referred to a review board, which recommended Darling be terminated.
The sheriff’s office received approximately 60 letters from school faculty in defense of the deputy, touting his accomplishments, but Gualtieri said the deputy’s lack of remorse didn’t do him any favors and he was ultimately fired.
It’s unclear if any criminal charges will be filed against Darling at this time.
“I was shocked. And I was hurt. And I was in fear for how many times this has happened to my son before,” the child’s mother told News Channel 8. “I’m happy that he’s fired. I don’t think he truly understands like what he’s done. He shouldn’t have never been around children in the first place. Especially children with special needs.”
“Deputy Darling has earned the trust and respect of the students, teachers and administrators of the Pinellas County School District and is a remarkable example for the students,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said at the ceremony naming him the state’s School Resource Officer of the Year in 2011. News Channel 8 reached out to Bondi for comment regarding this week’s revelations and she gave us the following statement:
“It’s despicable that someone who was in a position of trust, not just with students but with special needs students, would do something so disgusting. His actions could traumatize this young man for the rest of his life.”
No further details regarding his firing are available at this time.