Stepfather jailed after stepson with autism drowns in bathtub

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A Clayton County elementary school teacher taken to jail Tuesday night after his stepson, who had autism and relied a wheelchair to get around, drowned in a bathtub, made his first court appearance Wednesday.

Michael David Smith, 32, faces charges of second degree murder and second degree child cruelty. Clayton County Police said they responded to a 911 call of a child drowned in a bathtub at Smith's Morrow area home on Mill Lake Way early Tuesday afternoon.

“The child was left in the care of his step father along with three of his siblings. The stepfather sometime momentarily stepped away from the child diverting his attention to the three other juveniles,” said Major Kevin Roberts with the Clayton County Police Department.

Major Roberts said it's unclear how long the boy was left unattended in the bathtub by Smith. At one point police said a family member moved the boy out of the bathtub and into another part of the house, apparently in an effort to save his life.

“Officers did arrive to find I believe a family member attempted CPR, but I can't be specific,” said Major Roberts.

Co-worker Jo Barnes was among dozens of supporters who gathered at the courthouse to support Smith during Wednesday's hearing. “Just seeing him in the courtroom shackled... not this man...”

The woman joined by dozens of colleagues who also work with Smith at Roberta T. Smith Elementary in Rex, Georgia. The 11-year-old attended classes there. Barnes considered Smith a model parent.

“He brings the child who is deceased into the building every morning I've never seen him get angry with the child he brings him in if he has to be changed because I think he wears diapers he takes him to the bathroom he does this,” said Barnes.

Smith remained silent to a peppering of questions from reporters as he was transferred from the Clayton County Police Department to the Clayton County Jail Tuesday night.

Next-door neighbor Mesha Evans said she rarely saw the family.

“They're a real quiet family, so I didn't know them at all. We've been here for a very long time. But they've only been here about a year and they really stayed to themselves,” said Evans.

Clayton County Police said they had not responded to the home before. They identified Smith as an elementary school teacher at a school with his name, Smith Elementary, in the Clayton County School District.

Police also said there was nothing to point to any deliberate actions in the death of the 11-year-old boy.

“The rationale behind that is we all have a responsibility as parents and just citizens. We're not saying it was intentional but the word is negligent,” said Major Roberts.

The three other children were left in their mothers care. Evans said she is praying for them.

“I'm definitely sending my prayers their way and if they need anything they know where I am,” said Evans.