2 LAPD Officers Not Justified in Fatal Shooting of Autistic Man

On March 20, 2010, 27-year-old Steven Eugene Washington was shot and killed near Koreatown by two Los Angeles Police Department officers. ABC News reports that Washington’s family said that he was autistic, was not violent, and had never had any history of trouble with the police. This Sunday, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled that the two officers were not justified in shooting Washington.

ABC News gave this account of the incident: 

Gang enforcement officers Allan Corrales and George Diego heard a loud noise while driving in their patrol car and turned around to see Washington. The officers said he was looking around suspiciously and manipulating something in his waist area. 

When the officers tried to stop Washington to investigate, he quickly approached them and appeared to pull something from his waistband, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told reporters at a news conference Saturday afternoon. 

Each officer fired once and Washington was hit in the head, police said.

The officers fired “with the belief that he was arming himself, and in defense of their lives,” Paysinger said. 

Corrales and Diego called paramedics, who pronounced Washington dead at the scene.

According to the panel, offices Allan Corrales and George Diego, violated LAPD policies. The panel rejected Police Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that the two officers be cleared in the shooting. Beck had found that, while the Corrales and Diego made ‘serious tactical mistakes,’ they ‘ultimately were justified in using deadly force.’

As ABC News says, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California urged police to re-examine its policies. A few weeks after her son was shot, Washington’s mother, Katrina Washington, filed a claim against the city of Los Angeles, saying that her son ‘”made no aggressive movements, no furtive gestures…”‘ She also charges that her son’s civil rights were violated.

As Dennis Debbaudt, who has an adult autistic son, is a professional investigator and law enforcement trainer, has noted, there have been more than a few cases when police officers mistook the behavior of autistic individuals as suspicious and potentially dangerous. For instance, some individuals on the autism spectrum engage in self-stimulatory behaviors that may involve repetitive body movements, or holding their bodies in ways that seem ‘odd.’ The autistic person may very well be doing these things for reasons completely different and unheard of by many people.

The shooting of Steven Eugene Washington by officers from the LAPD unfortunately recalls a similar incident that occurred in March of 2008, when 21-year-old Mohammed Usman Chaudhry was shot after Officer Joseph Cruz and his partner found him lying by bushes behind a Hollywood apartment building. Chaudhry was also autistic and unarmed; the officers say that he ‘lunged’ at them with a knife. Chaudry’s family won a civil suit filed against the city of Los Angeles on behalf of their son: Will there be justice for Steven Eugene Washington too?

 

Previous Care2 Coverage

Family of Autistic Man Killed By Police Win Suit Against Los Angeles

 

Photo by  twm1340.

77 comments

peggy p.
peggy p.4 years ago

i realize that police confront so many difficult situations each day that at times their minds and bodies get stuck in fight/flight response...but i don't see how either fits this category of harm. seems they lost humanity in this one..

Finica Daniel Radu

Get rid of all distruction weapons cause it will not help us understand better with each other or help us in our lives. Fear is a powerfull ally for many and because of fear people will lose all

Suzanne M.
Suzanne M.5 years ago

If the USA didn't have such lax gun laws in the first place with guns freely available, this wouldn't be a problem. You don't hear of this happening in the UK because the police there don't carry guns, because the public generally don't either. If the police in the US didn't figure that every person could potentially have a gun on their person because its legal there, then they wouldn't fear for their lives every time they face someone who may appear to be about to pull a gun out. The US needs to look at other countries example and change their gun laws. And don't say "guns don't kill people, people kill people". Correction: people WITH GUNS kill people.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.5 years ago

It's going to happen again and again..too much fire power not enough brains and many are bias and arrogant. The good cops will tell you the same thing. And many of them find other jobs.
Training? An officer here that worked at the county jail was REPRIMANDED because he didn't use "appropriate force", while talking to inmate and defusing the situation. He quit. It wasn't the first time this stuff had gone on, and of course the prisoners are ready victims to any sadism. Drugged and tasered.
The nurse, that worked there quit too. For the same reasons.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam5 years ago

thanks for the article.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago

No win situation all around for the victim and the police.

Dean P.
Dean P.5 years ago

Trigger happy cops..It happens more often than not. Should be fired for their inept capabilities to establish..

Don Cordell
Donald Cordell5 years ago

What is just as bad is when you call the police for help, and do not get help. Male victims of spousal abuse, do not get help. The cops still figure it's the mans fault, he must have done something to deserve abuse, so lock up the man to protect the dear little innocent woman, so she wont have to hit him again.
Sadly I find myself at times cheering when I hear an officer is injured in a confrontation, because I figure the citizen is fighting for justice. Now a court in Mass. charges you a fee if you want to prove you are innocent, can't afford the court costs, too bad, then your guilty.

April Hunter
April Hunter5 years ago

Geez...this is really a '6 in one hand/half dozen in the other' situation.
If these police officers were us, our spouses, parents or children and someone reached into their coat or waistband...we'd want them to shoot first. Ask questions later.
We'd want them to assume that others wish them harm and to be safe.

But in the case of more and more autism in the USA, we really need our forces to be more educated to the signs.
Then again, how easy would it be for a felon to imitate an autistic person in order to get away unharmed or kill first?

There are so many different variables here. My mother is a high functioning autistic. My fathers side are all cops and firemen. They are *usually* justified in shooting fast if someone's told to freeze or put their hands in the air and they don't comply.

Perhaps just as our forces need educating...our autistics do too. The parents of special needs children need to educate them that being told to 'freeze' means to put your hands in the air. (And yes, you can teach autistics. )

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.5 years ago

It seems our police are not properly trained in many areas. It's shoot first and ask questions later. And it's shoot to kill. Very Sad. This is a lose, lose situation. Lives are lost and ruined.