5th grader with autism hurt after gym teacher throws basketball at boy's face, family says

Titusville PE teacher on leave pending investigation by police, school district

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – A physical education teacher at Oak Park Elementary School is on administrative leave Thursday after a student with autism said the teacher hit him in the face with a ball, authorities said.

James Pearson, 48, is accused by the family of fifth grader Darrin Joseph of forcefully throwing a basketball at the 12-year-old during gym class three weeks ago. The family told News 6 that the ball hit Darrin in the head and left his face swollen.

Pearson is on leave pending an investigation by Brevard Public Schools and Titusville police into the alleged incident.

"After he hit him in the face with the basketball, he then pushed him really hard in the chest, making him kind of fumble to the ground," Joseph's aunt Urshala Williams said.

The family said after that, Pearson then appeared to position himself in a fighting stance in front of Joseph, making a fist.

The family said Joseph has been afraid of Pearson since the incident.

"Being that he's autistic, he was puzzled," Williams said. "He was kind of like, what's going on?"

"I had a headache," Joseph said. "It felt just like a headache wave was going through my head."

Joseph told News 6 that he was doing nothing wrong that would warrant Pearson to try and discipline him.

But Brevard Schools officials told News 6 that Pearson said the fifth grader was misbehaving, so he threw a soccer ball in his direction to try and get his attention.

Pearson said the ball happened to bounce and hit Joseph, according to the school district.

Pearson has been in trouble before.

Brevard School officials said he was reprimanded in 2012 and during last school year, both times for either using inappropriate language in front of students or making inappropriate comments about students. Officials said Pearson once called a student a "jerk" and also referred to a student as a "stupid kid."

Joseph's family said if Pearson comes back to Oak Park, they will transfer the 12-year-old to another school.

"I want answers," Latresa Quimby, Joseph's mother, told News 6. "I want to assure that this doesn't happen not just to my child, but to any disabled children."

The Florida Department of Children and Families is also investigating the alleged incident.

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