Ex-student with autism sues O.C. college after he was arrested, pepper-sprayed during disturbance
A former Orange Coast College student suspected of vandalism and violating a protective order that barred him from the Costa Mesa campus has filed a civil lawsuit against the college, claiming it mistreated him.
Robert McDougal’s lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court on Monday, alleges negligence, emotional distress, assault, battery and false imprisonment on the part of the college and school officials.
McDougal, a 22-year-old Costa Mesa resident who has been diagnosed with autism, started attending the community college in 2014 and was “excelling academically,” according to the lawsuit.
In an August 2017 letter to OCC officials that was attached to the lawsuit, McDougal’s parents allege that the college, despite being told about his disability, failed to accommodate their son. The letter was part of a claim filed with the college that month that sought $5 million in damages.
“OCC was grossly negligent in handling this situation,” the claim states. “OCC harassed Robert and discriminated against him because of his disabilities. The damage to Robert’s image and reputation is irreparable.”
An OCC representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The lawsuit, which names OCC, the Coast Community College District and several college employees, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.
College officials have said McDougal’s issues at the campus began in February 2017 when he allegedly began emailing his chemistry instructor incessantly asking to retake an exam with the help of a calculator.
He had received a B on the exam without a calculator, a lower grade than he expected. The instructor, Amy Hellman, declined his request to retake the test, according to transcripts of emails filed in Superior Court last year.
School officials allege that on Feb. 27, 2017, he barged into the classroom while other students were present. Security officers escorted McDougal out of the building, but when they weren’t looking, he ran back inside and sprinted in circles around the classroom, according to a Costa Mesa police report.
McDougal’s lawsuit presents a different version of events. It states that he “was so upset and fixated on the fact the two questions could affect his grade that he impulsively dropped the class then immediately tried to get reinstated into the class.”
McDougal’s attorney, John Christl, wrote in court papers that Hellman told McDougal in an email that he could complete the test questions and be reinstated to the class. However, when he showed up, he was told to wait outside until class was over.
McDougal was confused when security walked him away from the building, according to the suit, and when the bell rang his “sole focus was to get to Hellman’s class to retake the two quiz questions and be reinstated into the class.”
He ran back to the class, got “slammed to the ground” and doused with pepper spray by a security officer, according to the lawsuit.
Costa Mesa police, who ultimately arrested McDougal, have said he was pepper-sprayed after kicking security officers and yelling a racial slur at one of them.
A restraining order barring McDougal from entering the campus or contacting Hellman was granted by Judge Michael McCartin in March 2017 at the request of college officials.
That same month, McDougal was suspended from all Coast Community College District facilities until March 2019, according to college officials.
He was arrested again in March 2017 on suspicion of carving a swastika and a racial slur on the hoods of two OCC security vehicles and slashing their tires. He was booked into Orange County Jail and later posted bail.
Prosecutors allege McDougal returned to the campus several times over the next several months in violation of the restraining order.
McDougal is facing felony vandalism charges and misdemeanor charges of disturbing a public school, remaining on campus without consent, resisting a public or peace officer, and disobeying a domestic relations court order in connection to the incidents, according to court records.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is expected to appear in court in Westminster for a pretrial hearing on March 16.
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