Saturday, June 19, 2010

18 year old with autism tasered at Tybee Island

I've been reading up on the teen on Tybee Island who was tasered and the heated debates on the issue. I've read over the incident reports that you can find online by googling “Tybee Island taser teen” and other news reports. I have to say, it doesn't look good for the the Tybee Island police. Let's take a look at a couple if the issues at hand.

The report states that he became combative and flailed his arms. A struggle ensued and one of the officers used the taser to subdue him. The first issue I have with this is the witness account that says none of the flailing or such occurred. That says they grabbed him and took him down without him trying to walk away or any such behavior. I'm sure they could say that person just doesn't like cops, but it doesn't matter. One of the greatest risks you face as an officer (that isn't life threatening) is the scrutiny of the public eye.

Drinking or acting drunk: They asked him if he had been drinking. They say he answered in the affirmative. Well, think about this; autistics are highly literal people. I wonder if they really used the word “alcohol” in that question, because if they didn't he could have taken that to mean anything.

“Have you been drinking?”
“Yes, I had some water and a soda.”

That makes “yes” a truthful answer, but not for alcohol. As for his behavior; I'm sure he was acting strangely. He had lots of sensory input to deal with from the loud crowds and activity. While they said they had no way of knowing he had autism or a heart condition, there are standard methods of finding out if a person has been drinking alcohol. Did he smell like alcohol? Did they try a breathalyzer? Did they even offer that as an option? Past that, all his behaviors fit his autism.

Blaming: in their carefully worded apology and statements they do a lot of blaming. Here's some of the things they blame (past his own supposed behavior) for the incident:

1: He's big: Yes, he stood taller than both officers. So what? Are we saying the officers are easily intimidated by big people? You're supposed to be trained for dealing with people of all sizes.

2: The environment: So there were lots of people partying around the place? Again, so what? Did they all break out into a fight? Was there a riot? No? Then what did they have to do with it? You can't blame the scene for the event with a single person. Just because you are going to deal with a lot of drunks to night doesn't mean you should have an itchy trigger finger or that everyone will be drunk (even if they act like it).

3: Officer's may have to a make split second decisions: Yes, that's true. But I'm having a hard time seeing just where this “split second” issue occurred. One comment on the facebook page states that officers can do this if they are in danger of their lives. I can accept just “in danger” but I don't see it. How did he endanger anyone? Did he hit them? Did he even push them? Or did he, as the report says, just try to walk away? Walking away is not a threat. And the witness says that didn't even happen. Was it necessary to even grab him? I don't think it was. Split second decision? Not buying it. Two trained men on one (even if large) man and the report just doesn't show the need of that kind of force. It doesn't show the “split second” need.

4: He shouldn't have been left alone: Maybe not, but what did he do wrong? Was he hurting anyone? Was he messing with anyone or anything in any way? Or did he just seem off and awkward? Was in endangering anyone to include himself? Questionable I can understand, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't have been left alone. It also doesn't excuse what happened in the slightest. People who's disabilities could cause them to hurt themselves or others are the ones who shouldn't be left alone. The report shows no reason that this man was a danger to anyone. He wasn't in danger of wandering away or getting lost. He wasn't hurting anyone. He wasn't even interfering with anyone. He just paced and seemed “intoxicated” in a place where “everyone” was drinking (alcohol).

I'm glad they are going to employ additional training, but I would like to see an apology for his young man without all the excuses.

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