A Brooklyn parent says he will sue the city after his 11-year-old son with autism was punched in the head by a school worker in 2014.
Anatoly Veltman Sr. appeared with attorney Sanford Rubenstein on Monday to announce plans to sue for $5 million in damages. The move comes after Veltman and Rubenstein said they saw surveillance video of the brutal punch at a cafeteria table, which took over a year to obtain by court order.
Veltman is also pushing for a change in the way paraprofessionals who work with special needs children are hired and trained.
Veltman said his son, also named Anatoly, suffered a concussion from the blow during summer school on Aug. 7, 2014. When the father arrived at the emergency room, he saw a "big blue bruise above his eye and it was clear... that he was punched with force," he said.
He was shocked to learn a paraprofessional had allegedly assaulted his son, who has the mental capacity of a 6-year-old.
"I wouldn't believe it. It was an impossibility," said Veltman.
"From the moment that the children are taken off the school bus and put back on the school bus, they are protected by these paraprofessionals one-on-one. That's the type of attention my son needs," he added.
The boy's own paraprofessional is not the one accused of punching him, but Rubenstein said the woman assigned to work with Anatoly also lied about the incident, saying she didn't see the punch, even though video indicates otherwise.
The worker, Milton Parker, was arrested and suspended without pay. He was indicted on a felony assault charge, but pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor assault. Parker attended anger management and served probation, then retired shortly thereafter and is collecting pension, according to Rubenstein.
The Brooklyn district attorney's office said the boy's parents had agreed to the plea deal. The Department of Education said Parker — who retired in September 2014 while his criminal case was still pending — is not eligible for future employment with the school system.
In the video, the younger Anatoly is seen reaching up to swing at Parker inside PS 225 in Brighton Beach during summer school, and the man immediately punches the boy in the head.
Parker — who is black — allegedly scolded the boy for spilling ice and throwing a napkin on the floor, to which Anatoly replied, "This table is for whites only," The Daily News reports, citing school records and an interview with Parker. The boy apologized for the comment, then punched the paraprofessional, according to the report. That's when Parker swung back.
"The kid punched me in the eye first and as a reflex, he got hit back," Parker, now 59, told The Daily News.
"I knew it was on camera," he told the newspaper. "If it was intentional, I would have taken him to another room and beaten the snot out of him."
Rubenstein said of Parker's comments, "How can someone work for the Department of Education with that kind of mentality? Clearly the DOE needs to review their hiring procedures."
NBC 4 New York was not able to immediately reach Parker for comment Monday.
The trauma made Anatoly afraid of all school buildings, according to Veltman, who said he feared his son would run away from school if he were forced back. He referred to the case of Avonte Oquendo, a boy with autism boy who ran away from his Queens school and was later found dead.
Anatoly has doubled up on his medication and is now undergoing homeschooling, but the situation isn't ideal, Veltman said.
"The education is not the same," he said, adding, "It's bad because school was his institution. They need structure, they need routines, and that was taken away from him."
The father is now pleading for paraprofessionals and other workers to be kind and gentle with children who have special needs.
"To people working with special-needs children, be compassionate. Figure out non-confrontational ways of dealing with them. These children don't think the way we think, their perception is different, their reality is somewhere within them. You've got to understand that and do everything for their safety and hopefully their education," Veltman urged.