SEMINOLE – Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Aug. 25 that a longtime school resource deputy had been fired due to improper conduct with an autistic student.
The incident occurred on May 15 at Osceola Middle School, 9301 98th St. N. in Seminole.
Investigators with the Administrative Investigation Division say Deputy Ural Darling, 57, was called when a 13-year-old autistic boy threw a book at his teacher. They say the deputy then took the boy to the behavior specialist’s office where he remained for about 20 minutes before his mother came to get him.
During that time, investigators say Darling yelled at the boy and used his handcuffs to taunt him. They say he also made the boy hold three to five books out in front of him and told him not to put the books down until Darling said he could.
Investigators say Darling threatened to Baker Act the child and told the boy he was going to take him to the "mental hospital" and they would keep him there "forever."
The child's mother had noticed the boy’s behavior deteriorating at school, and she placed a microphone on him. The May 15 events were recorded without Darling’s knowledge.
The child’s mother complained to the Sheriff’s office and provided a copy of the audio to investigators, who determined the child had a cognitive level of a first grader and his communication skills were that of a kindergartener.
They concluded that Darling had improper conduct with the autistic child and he was fired.
Darling has been employed by the sheriff’s office since Feb. 27, 1995. In 2001, he was assigned to the School Resource Officer Unit for Osceola Middle School.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi named Darling as the School Resource Officer of the Year during the 32nd annual conference of the Florida Association of School Resource Officers in Orlando July 18, 2011.
He was praised for his work at the school. Officials said that between 2001 and 2011, there was an 86 percent decrease in the number of students arrested, from 83 in 2001 to 12 in 2011. At that time, Darling taught personal safety classes, counseled new students, and worked with administrators on behavioral solutions for struggling students, according to a media release.
“School resource officers play a pivotal role in the lives of our children by protecting and mentoring them,” Bondi said at the time. “Deputy Darling has earned the trust and respect of the students, teachers, and administrators of the Pinellas County School District and is a remarkable example for the students.”
Bondi released a statement to reporters after Darling was fired.
"It's despicable that someone who was in a position of trust, not just with students but with special needs students, would do something so disgusting," she said. "His actions could traumatize this child for the rest of his life."
Darling also was credited for saving a Pinellas Park woman’s life on Jan. 15, 2016. Jacqueline T. Romano, 55, was meeting with staff at the school. When she arrived, she complained about being short of breath. Within a short time of her sitting down, Romano became unresponsive and had no pulse. Darling, with the assistance of school staff, performed CPR and utilized an Automated External Defibrillator until relieved by Seminole Fire Rescue.