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?
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