Special education teacher charged with abuse gets immunity - CBS46 News

Special education teacher charged with abuse gets immunity

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

A special education teacher accused of abuse has been given immunity from prosecution.

Ronald Hatcher's son is one of four special needs students Melanie Pickens was accused of abusing at Hopewell Middle School in Milton.

"My son, Aaron Hatcher, he could not talk, he could not walk, he could not do anything. He was locked in a room alone and it hurts, it hurts deeply," said Hatcher.

Pickens was charged in an 11-count indictment but a Fulton County judge ruled in favor of a state law that protects teachers from criminal prosecution.

"I want every parent out there - I want you all to stand up and take a stand," said Hatcher. "Don't just drop your child off at a school because when you just drop your child off at a school this is the end result. Get involved."

Hatcher said Georgia's immunity law for teachers puts children in danger.

"It's very dangerous. It's like a loaded gun," said Hatcher.

Pickens' attorney B.J. Bernstein disagrees with him.

"This law is put in place to protect educators," said Bernstein. "When you hear the facts in this case you might not like everything that happened but you would agree that it wasn't criminal."

The five students Pickens' was accused of abusing have moderate to severe handicaps. Like Hatcher's son, none of them could talk.

"So I tell you the state of Georgia you need to rise up because this type of stuff should not happen anywhere. I want these kids to know even though they can't talk I can," said Hatcher.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr. released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

"We are deeply disappointed with the Judge's decision to grant immunity to this defendant. However, we are not dismayed. Within minutes of his decision, we had drafted a notice of appeal, and, as of this writing, have already filed it with the Clerk's office so it can be transmitted to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
 
"It is interesting to note that prior to the presentation of evidence in this proceeding  (perhaps foreshadowing his ultimate decision) Judge Newkirk, sua sponte, informed courtroom observers, including the victims' parents,  that he had previously granted immunity to a police officer accused of rape and that his decision was upheld.
 
"Our hope is that once the case is reviewed, the Court of Appeals will give these children--defenseless, special needs students without a voice-- the justice they deserve."

"Jacking students" is a phrase prosecutors said Pickens used to refer how she handled special needs students who did not follow the rules.

The alleged abuse happened between 2004 and 2005. A grand jury indicted Pickens in 2012.

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