A Riverdale High School student who lives with autism is free on bond after his parents say he was defending himself against bullies.

The story came to light after CBS46’s Adam Murphy reported Marquise Baccus, 17, had been arrested by Clayton County Schools Police on September 21, charged with one count of simple battery, and booked into the Clayton County Jail as an adult.

The juvenile court system offers more intensive support and rehabilitation, better incarceration conditions, and does not leave the juvenile with a criminal record at the start of their adult life.

Under current Georgia law, a 17-year-old is charged as an adult for a criminal offense, even if it’s a misdemeanor. Most other states charge 17-year-olds as juveniles.

Baccus’ parents said their son was unarmed and had never been involved in such an incident before, adding that he was defending himself against bullies on the school bus.

Marquelle and Corey Swindle say their 17-year-old son, Marquise Baccus, was arrested after being bullied on the school bus. Baccus, a Riverdale High School student who lives with autism, was charged with simple battery and booked into the Clayton County Jail, where he spent two days before bonding out early Friday.

To make matters worse, they said, he had no legal representation during his arraignment, so waived his first appearance without understanding his rights.

“Since the school didn’t state there was no mental issues, there was no medication, that’s how they treating him. So he’s not getting no medication right now,” his mother, Marquelle Swindle, told Murphy Thursday.

“The officer said, ‘Had I been aware [of Marquise’s health issues], I wouldn’t have took him to jail,'” Corey Swindle added.

Baccus’ bond was set at $2,500. Online jail records show he bonded out a 1:15 a.m. Friday morning. A first appearance hearing had been set for 10 a.m. on October 4, according to online court records.

The Clayton Crescent e-mailed CCPS public information Thursday, but got no immediate reply. We went to speak with CCPS officials in person Friday morning about the case but none were available for an in-person interview. CCPS Police Chief Reynard Walker spoke briefly with The Clayton Crescent, referring us back to CCPS spokespersons who had not been available shortly before. Shortly thereafter, Charles White replied by e-mail, apologizing for the delay, and forwarding “the district’s response to your inquiry”:

“As it relates to the situation involving a Riverdale High School student, the Clayton County Public Schools Police followed established protocol in responding to an altercation that took place Wednesday, September 21, on one of the district’s buses. Inquiries related to circumstances beyond the arrest should be directed to the appropriate governmental agency.”

The Clayton Crescent has asked for CCPS’ specific written protocol (beyond the student handbook) for handling a student charged as an adult who might have been bullied, whether any other students were arrested or disciplined in the incident, as well as for more information about how CCPS Police would transport a disabled student and their health records to the Clayton County Jail.

For example, we asked whether CCPS Police are responsible for bringing the student’s medical history records, when in the process the student’s parents are notified, and what extra steps, if any, would apply to students with life-threatening conditions like cardiovascular or breathing issues.

The Clayton Crescent also asked CCPS whether it had “more granular policies for cases like this” and, if not, whether the School Board would be considering any as a result of this incident.

“Raise the Age” effort

A 2021 bill by Georgia Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-23, Canton), HB 272, would raise the age to 18 for most adult charges passed the House in 2021 but was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Ballinger chairs the House Juvenile Justice Committee.) At the Senate committee’s March 22, 2021 meeting, then-Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske spoke in favor of it, as did representatives of the Houston and Turner County Sheriff’s officer and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Two days later, after several more agencies testified in favor of the bill and the Georgia Sheriff’s Association and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police spoke against it, the committee recommended that the bill pass the bill by substitute. However, the bill’s final status is listed as dead/failed/vetoed.

See a list of youth services on the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice’s website.

Learn about autism spectrum disorder:

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Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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