In Florida, an impending decision by Judge Terence Perkins regarding a high-profile case is anticipated greatly and is likely to stir up strong emotions irrespective of the outcome. The case primarily concerns a teenage boy named Brendan Depa who lives with autism and stands accused of brutally assaulting his teacher in a bout of violent behavior, triggered by an argument over a Nintendo Switch gaming device back in February.
Brendan, who weighs in at 270 pounds, will be facing his final sentencing on January 31st, with outcomes spanning from probation to a staggering 30-year imprisonment. Joan Naydich, the teacher who bore the brunt of Brendan’s outburst, has continuously advocated for the maximum punishment. In an exclusive dialogue with the press, Naydich revealed that she had suffered multiple injuries including five broken ribs and a concussion during the unprovoked attack, which have led to persistent vision and hearing problems.
However, Brendan’s adoptive mother, Leanne, offered a different perspective during her exclusive interview with the press. As a pediatric occupational therapist residing outside Tampa, she first became Brendan’s mother through adoption when he was only half a year old. Behavioral issues emerged early on in Brendan’s life, evidenced by frequent disruptions in his kindergarten class leading to regular calls home.
In response to these early signs of behavioral challenges, Leanne made the decision to home-school Brendan, including occasional co-op classes for special subjects with other children. Despite certain ‘meltdowns’, Leanne described this period as manageable. Both she and her husband decided against medication at that point, believing they could control the situation.
Brendan’s condition started to deteriorate around the age of 14. His once manageable tantrums grew increasingly severe, even turning violent at times. Amid other family health emergencies, Leanne decided to try the use of prescribed medication in an attempt to curtail his escalating behaviors. However, Brendan’s condition only worsened, fueled by a cocktail of new medications.
Soon, the Depa family found themselves in a dreadful predicament. Brendan started to exhibit even more erratic behavior, hallucinating about invisible insects and attempting to ward them off by wrapping a towel around his head. Police interventions became distressingly common, and the situation reached a point where the family felt propelled to admit Brendan to an autism-specific hospital in South Carolina towards the end of 2019.
Brendan had always been uncomfortable around crowds and noise, and thus, he found it hard to acclimate to his new environment. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it restricted familial visits, further aggravating Brendan’s sense of isolation and discontent, which indirectly fostered more violent episodes.
Brendan was eventually discharged from the hospital, but reintegration into the family home raised critical health concerns. Especially given her husband’s heart condition, Leanne feared that Brendan’s unpredictable temper would pose a significant risk. Thus, they placed Brendan in a Palm Coast group home in November 2020, where he was provided with his own room and allowed recreational facilities, like a TV and gaming device. Here, though still prone to emotional outbursts, Brendan displayed signs of stability.
Leanne had concerns about reintroducing Brendan to a conventional public school environment, yet the group home held the final word. Teachers, in collaboration with his family, crafted an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that acknowledged and worked around Brendan’s unique needs. However, within a year of this plan’s deployment, Brendan assaulted his teacher, Joan Naydich, following a dispute over his Nintendo Switch.
This confrontation took place when Naydich escorted Brendan to a cyber security class. Brendan’s repeated use of his gaming device frustrated a substitute teacher, this occurrence led to the suggestion that allowing Brendan to bring gadgets into general classes was not a wise decision. When the topic was brought up again in Brendan’s regular special education class, the boy lost his temper.
Joan Naydich alleges that Brendan’s advocates, including Leanne, have exaggerated his limitations. She disputes the portrayal that Brendan lacks the ability to think for himself, given his current success in working towards a GED while in jail. Naydich argues that the narrative being woven of Brendan being incapable of even simple tasks is deeply flawed.
In refutation, Leanne insists that Brendan’s advanced verbal proficiency conceals the gravity of his autism. She voiced concern that measures advised by his IEP were overlooked, contributing to the event. She pointed out that Brendan’s behavioral issues were not to be discussed in a group setting, and more importantly, electronic devices were supposed to be prohibited altogether due to Brendan’s tendency to react violently when they were taken away from him.
With the imminent sentencing, numerous individuals are scheduled to make statements in support of both Naydich and Brendan. Everyone is keenly awaiting the judgment of Judge Perkins, which is bound to resonate nationally, reflecting the divisive nature of this case.