I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: Justice for Josh: Questions surround beating of boy with autism

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019
(News 12 at 6 O'Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- There are a lot of questions about what happened to a little boy with autism who appears to have been beaten.

Mom called police, took him to the emergency room, and met with Rape Crisis, but after seven months, there still hasn't been justice for Josh.

WARNING: THE PHOTO IS GRAPHIC. We had to blur some of it, but it seems to clearly depict abuse. The photo shows welts on Josh Ford's behind, and they speak volumes.

They have to.

Josh can't speak.

Meredith Anderson: "Do you think they did it on purpose because he's nonverbal? He wouldn't be able to report?"
Laura Ford: "Of course. Of course. They took advantage of a disability."

The incident report with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office classifies it as "suspicious activity." Laura Ford told deputies her then-8-year-old might have been a victim of child abuse. The emergency room report goes into a lot more detail. Mom noticed Josh was "more irritable than usual" after she picked him up from daycare, but she didn't notice the marks on his bottom until his bath.

"You seen that on him. I couldn't miss it. When you saw it, did it look like you could miss it? There's no way you can miss that," Ford said. Josh's mother also admits everyone, including herself, might have something else at first, though.

Eleven days later, Mom took Josh back to the doctor because he "developed new behaviors." It was now June 26, 2018. Ford reported Josh would "start screaming and occasionally hitting his bottom" and was "withdrawing from touch."

"Now if I go to reach for him, he does this," Ford said. "Do you know how that breaks my heart? Reach for my child, and he's afraid of me?"

In a hospital visit dated Sept. 26, 2018, Ford told doctors her son "now refuses to go in a dark room. He is having difficulty sleeping." She also reported Josh "plays with and digs at his bottom which was not a habit of his before the incident."

According to medical records, Laura Ford took Josh back to the doctor on Oct. 10, 2018. Josh is "demonstrating sexual behaviors" such as "dry humping the wall" or "playing with his genitalia." Josh and his mom met with Rape Crisis, and Ford said a counselor suggested sexual assault.

"She said me, 'I don't believe anybody actually raped him, but I believe they tried to touch him and he wouldn't let them,'" Ford said. "And she said, 'I believe that's how the beating came in.'"

It now seems likely that the photo could be evidence of more than a beating. Josh wasn't able to tell anyone whether he was sexually assaulted, but his pattern of behaviors makes it likely.

"That is proof that something happened," Jenny Lindsay, a Rape Crisis counselor, said. "We have to talk about this. We have to know that this does happen because we have to keep our kids safe."

It's especially important to protect children like Josh.

"People with intellectual disabilities have a seven times higher rate of being sexual assault victims, and it allows these perpetrators to re-offend," Lindsay said.

That means whoever did this to Josh is still out there and could strike again.

"You can know that it happened. You can believe that it happened, but prosecuting it and finding evidence that you could take to trial and get a conviction, it's very different," Lindsay said.

In this case, it's very difficult to get justice for Josh.

So, what happened to Josh? The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has closed the case. The News 12 I-Team filed an open records request for the case file on Jan. 25. We have not received it yet. Deputies never named a suspect, and they never named the daycare in the incident report. Because of that, we won't name it in this story, but Meredith Anderson spoke with the director. She told Meredith she is certain this did not happen under her center's care. She says deputies investigated, reviewed their surveillance video, and cleared the daycare.

Maybe the case file will give more answers. We'll keep you posted.