ST. GEORGE — The defense for Martin Farnsworth, the teen accused of bringing a homemade bomb to Pine View High School earlier this year, is putting some of the blame on the Washington County School District.
Defense attorney Edward Flint told St. George News the school district failed to find out that Farnsworth had autism spectrum disorder, which he said is a legal requirement through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Because Farnsworth’s teachers and school administrators didn’t have him tested for a mental or emotional disorder because of his “quirks,” Flint said Farnsworth didn’t receive enough resources to help his autism.
“I’m not saying the school district built an incendiary device and took it to school and tried to ignite it,” Flint said. “But they had a duty to find out if he had autism, and they failed in that duty.”
Because the school district “utterly failed,” Flint said there is grounds for legal action to be filed against school officials.
Farnsworth, 16, is scheduled to stand trial in March on charges of attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction. He allegedly brought a homemade bomb to Pine View High School on March 5. The bomb never detonated and no one was injured, but the incident caused the entire school to be evacuated.
Farnsworth also is accused of vandalizing Hurricane High School Feb. 15 by painting “ISIS is comi” and raising a flag for the Islamic State outside the school.
Flint said the Washington County School District ignored Farnsworth’s problems instead of making sure he was receiving the help he needed, especially when he was being bullied at Hurricane High School. Farnsworth wasn’t diagnosed with autism until after he was charged with bringing the bomb to school.
“Had (the school district) tested him for autism a couple of years ago, maybe they could have directed him into special education and made sure the family got him in to see medical professionals,” Flint said. “Perhaps this could have been averted.”
If the Farnsworth family doesn’t want to file a lawsuit against the Washington County School District for not getting Farnsworth tested for autism, Flint said he has experience with the IDEA Act and he might bring that action against the school district himself.
“There’s no attorney fees involved if I win, which makes me reluctant to spend that kind of time and effort on something like this, but clearly, Washington County (School District) should have done something,” Flint said.
Steve Dunham, a spokesman for the Washington County School District, said it’s not the responsibility of teachers or the school district to be on the lookout for every warning sign of a mental disability in all of their students.
“Typically, parents come to us after they’ve received a medical diagnosis,” Dunham said. “And then we’ll administer the test to see what the children qualify for and what the services they’re eligible for under the IDEA Act.”
There are occasions when a teacher may report a student’s warning signs to parents, but those circumstances are much more rare, Dunham said.
“Our license is to educate; we don’t have a license to diagnose a child with autism or with any disability,” Dunham said.
Flint also filed a motion Monday to dismiss Farnsworth’s charges for attempted murder and possessing a weapon of mass destruction. In the motion, Flint argued that Farnsworth didn’t want to kill anyone; he only wanted to hurt his fellow students.
Flint also argued in the motion that the device that Farnsworth allegedly placed in the school could not be considered a weapon of mass destruction because “the ‘device’ at issue was incapable of actual explosion, and it is unknown if the device could have even started a fire, as allegedly constructed and deployed.”
With the motion, Flint said he’s seeking lesser charges for Farnsworth that would fit better with what actually happened, like a charge for using an incendiary device. Without naming any specific names, he compared the prosecutors in Farnsworth’s case to former President George W. Bush’s false claims of weapons of mass destruction before invading Iraq in 2003.
“Apparently, we haven’t learned anything from (Bush),” Flint said. “This is the same thing. They’re trying to make this kid out to be an ISIS terrorist and implicitly demonizing him because he’s autistic.”
Deputy Washington County Attorney Angela Adams was not available to comment on the new motion filed Monday.
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