HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) – The father of a student, who is non-verbal and severely autistic, took the stand Thursday in defense of two educators accused of assaulting and unlawfully restraining his son at a Texas high school.

Court records, and former and current special education teachers who witnessed parts of the incident, allege the Hutto ISD Special Education Director Dr. Stacie Koerth and district employee Karen Perez forced the student into a jumpsuit multiple times – despite his screams and attempts to escape. Duct tape was used around the suit to keep him from taking it off, according to testimony and court records.

Catch up on trial coverage

The incident happened after lunch at Hutto High School in Nov. 2018. Koerth and Perez came to the school that day, in part, to instruct the special education department on how to put the jumpsuit on the student. The jumpsuit was supposed to prevent the student from digging his hand into his pants – a behavior school employees testified became increasingly concerning that school year.

The student’s father Daniel Thompson testified Thursday that he did not think the actions of Koerth and Perez were criminal – and that he believed the two were “absolutely not” trying to hurt his son. He told jurors he believes his son’s screaming and attempts to escape were an expected response to change.

“If it had worked, we would have been screaming hallelujah,” said Thompson on the stand Thursday.

Thompson told jurors the issues around his son being trained to use the restroom fully had become “untenable” for he and his wife in the years leading up to this incident and led them to place him in a group home where he could receive more intensive care. His son was living at the group home and attending school at Hutto High School at the time of the incident in 2018.

Thompson said Thursday Perez called him after the incident, but he had not spoken to the other teachers involved other than reading parts of their statements in the police affidavit. He said he could not recall if Perez mentioned the use of duct tape.

Throughout the week-long trial, multiple special education employees who witnessed the incident in November 2018 took the stand to describe what they testified was the “wrong” treatment of the student. At least one of those employees is still working in the district under Koerth’s department.

The employees, and a private nurse for one of the students who was present that day, said the student could be heard screaming loudly from the classroom bathroom where Koerth and Perez were attempting to put on and keep the jumpsuit on the student. Two teachers who were watching testified the student was struggling, biting himself and trying to escape the bathroom – but was being blocked from leaving by the pair.

The teachers all said they did not call a school nurse or report the incident directly to police that day. Several expressed regrets on the stand over not reporting the incident sooner. The private nurse testified she reported the incident to child protective services, days later. 

“I wish I would have stood up for [the student.] I wish I would have stopped what was going on in that bathroom,” said retired teacher Sarah Yanoush on the stand Wednesday.

One of the teachers, who is now retired, said she believed the behavior of digging his hands in his pants might have been due to a medical issue. State prosecutors presented evidence Thursday that his school records alluded to a medical issue being tied to the behavior in the past.

The incident was only partially captured by hallway surveillance cameras. There were no cameras set up in the three Hutto High School special education classrooms in November 2018 – despite a 2016 state law allowing for them to be placed in contained classrooms upon request. Hutto ISD has not clarified whether cameras are in these classrooms now.

Koerth and Perez are also accused of tampering with governmental records, because of a record that indicated there was no restraint used during the incident in 2018. The principal of the school is separately charged with failing to report the incident to child protective services within 48 hours.

The defense for Koerth brought up multiple current employees with Hutto ISD, including a district occupational therapist and a school psychologist at Hutto High School. Both witnesses testified that Koerth was their supervisor.

The Hutto ISD occupational therapist testified that under best practices you would slowly, integrate new clothing into a student with autism’s routine. But said this student’s case was “urgent” and presented a health concern.

A board-certified behavior analyst, who works for a different Texas school district, testified Wednesday that while articles of clothing can be used to correct behavior in students with autism, best practices would be introducing the clothing slowly with non-verbal consent from the student.

State prosecutors presented evidence on Wednesday that even though Koerth and Perez instructed teachers to use the jumpsuit in November 2018 – a formal, documented plan, called a Behavior Improvement Plan, was not created by school officials until months later in April. Though, the Special Education Coordinator for Hutto ISD testified there had been discussions in the special education department on the district level before the incident.