Body Cam Shows Officer Detain Autistic Teenager He Thought Was Using Drugs

Police body-camera footage shows a Buckeye police officer detaining a 14-year-old boy with autism after he became suspicious of the boy, who was practicing one of his calming techniques at the time.

The Buckeye Police Department has said they think the officer reacted to a reasonable suspicion, but the family’s attorney says there is insufficient training for officers to deal with people on the autism spectrum, something the boy’s family would like addressed.

The footage, which the family attorney posted on YouTube on Sunday, shows an officer exiting his vehicle to approach the boy near Verrado Town Square and ask him what he’s doing. The boy says he’s “stimming” and holds up a piece of string.

“Stimming,” short for self-stimulating activity, is common among people with autism. Many say they use stimming activities to help calm their nerves.

The officer asks if the boy has an ID on him, the boy says no and turns to walk away.

“We will take any type of training from this incident or any other incident to learn from and better ourselves.”
Detective Tamela Skaggs, Buckeye police spokeswoman
When the boy turns to leave, the officer grabs the boy’s arms and holds them behind his back. The encounter resulted in the officer holding the boy down on the ground as the boy yells, “I’m OK.”

Officer David Grossman, who is trained in drug recognition, was the officer involved in the detainment, according to Buckeye police, which released the video Monday.

In his police report about the July 19 incident, Grossman said he believed the teen was using an inhalant drug.

“I observed some object in his right hand that he hit against his left palm and then immediately bring his hands up to his face in what appeared he was smelling something,” he said in the report.

Grossman said he has responded to a number of drug calls in the area in the past, which, to him, justified his suspicions, the report said.

The Buckeye Police Department said Monday his response was a reasonable suspicion based on Grossman’s training and expertise.

In a briefing to the media on Monday, Buckeye Detective Tamela Skaggs, a department spokeswoman, said the department is using this incident as a learning experience officials hope to use for future training.

“We will take any type of training from this incident or any other incident to learn from and better ourselves,” Skaggs said.

She said the department is planning to start a voluntary database where anyone in the community who has a a condition that police may not be familiar with can provide their photo along with some information and any triggers they may have. This information will appear if police run the individual’s name.

Skaggs said the department also is considering implementing a system that would allow people with disabilities to wear different-colored bracelets so they are more easily identifiable by police.