Father of Pell City teen accused of supporting ISIS speaks out

PELL CITY, Ala. (WIAT) -- A father is speaking on camera for the first time in the 10 months since his teenaged son was arrested, and accused of supporting ISIS.

Earlier this month, 19-year-old Peyton Pruitt was found not guilty by reason of mental defect, but the legal battle isn't over for the Pruitt family.

When word first spread that authorities arrested someone for soliciting support to ISIS, people in the Alabama town were upset.

But, as Tony Pruitt, the father of the accused can testify, there's always another side to the story.

Peyton is an animal lover that likes animals, including his puppy, which Tony says is not a puppy anymore. He appears on the surface to be an average teen that plays lots of video games, watches Netflix, and loves being around people.

When Peyton was arrested last November, he was charged with soliciting support for a terrorist act. The charges came after staff at a school, where Peyton lived, noticed some suspect behavior: Peyton had bought a book about ISIS, watched a documentary about ISIS, and communicated with people who appeared to be affiliated with ISIS on social media (The Pruitt's lawyer, James Gallini, says he has evidence that Peyton likely never communicated with any members of ISIS, and that the people Peyton engaged with online were FBI agents).

Tony says all of these things are true, however:

"This whole thing, in my opinion, as well as I know Peyton, was like a video game," Tony said. "I've spoken to him several times about it, and he understands that he did wrong. But his intentions were not to hurt anyone."

Tony tells CBS42 News that Peyton Pruitt is intellectually disabled, he has been diagnosed with Autism, ADD and other disabilities.

"Per the evaluations that we've had over and over, he is not a threat to our community or himself," Pruitt said.

We obtained a copy of an achievement assessment performed on Peyton this year, which shows that he has the cognitive ability of an 8 year old - even though he's 19 now.

"I view Peyton as a child," Tony said. "His condition is that of an 8 year old. The pain for me was seeing and trying to understand what his mind is going through as an 8 year old being handcuffed and put in the back of a police car."

Evaluations--like that one--were enough for a judge to find Peyton Pruitt "not guilty by reason of mental defect."

Yet, he's still in jail, until a judge decides whether to commit Peyton, or send him home.

"I know that there will always be people that won't understand the situation," Tony said. "But I have to publicly apologize that it has happened. I just want my boy home where he belongs."

Peyton Pruitt will undergo another mental evaluation next week. Also next week - the Pruitt family will hold a peaceful protest outside the St. Clair County courthouse, scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m.

You can find more information and learn more about Peyton's story here.

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