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Autistic Teenager Handcuffed After Jumping In Pool

Autistic Teenager Handcuffed After Jumping In Pool

A British court has awarded a teenager who is severely autistic and epileptic £28,250 (about $44310) in damages from the London Metropolitan police after they pulled him out of a swimming pool and handcuffed him. The teenager, identified as ZH by the court, had jumped into the water while fully clothed in September 2008. According to the Guardian, ZH’s lawyer, Tony Murphy, said that he became “fixated with the water as a result of his autism and was reluctant to leave the pool.”

Against the advice of ZH’s carer, the pool staff called the police, who “almost immediately took hold [of him], causing him to jump away from them and into the water,” according to Murphy. The police then applied “high-level force to remove him from the pool”; ZH suffered moderate post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

Legal counsel for the police emphasized that “these are very difficult issues for the emergency services, including the police, to deal with” while arguing that they should have some “margin in which they can act without their actions being found to be unlawful.”

The judge did note that the case is an example of the complicated situations that police and first-responders can face. In the US, indeed, police are too often called in situations when an individual with developmental disabilities or mental health issues is in crisis and too often because appropriate support services do not exist or have been eliminated due to budget cuts. Still, in view of ZH suffering moderate PTSD and of the extent of his disabilities including his being non-verbal, it seems that excessive and unnecessary force was used. In addition, the pool staff may have over-reacted and ought to have respected what ZH’s carer said.

ZH’s father observed that “the commissioner is still trying to justify this ill-treatment and refusing to provide training or an apology.” Indeed, while the judge’s ruling acknowledges the damages caused to ZH by the police’s treatment, what is needed is training and education of the police regarding how to handle situations when an individual is in crisis.

There have been a number of cases in the US involving police using excessive force on autistic individuals, sometimes with tragically fatal results.I only know about ZH’s case from news reports but I could see my severely autistic teenage son Charlie jumping into a pool and then not responding, or not seeming to respond, to requests to get out but eventually doing so on his own time. Here in New Jersey police have to have some instruction about autism, about why autistic and others with developmental disabilities might respond in unexpected ways and about strategies for approaching them (more are provided by Dennis Debault). We have had some incidents in which the police were called and they have, for the most part, asked us first about how best to approach Charlie and seemed to understand that his difficult behaviors are the result of neurological and other distress.

Just this Sunday, a 12-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome was arrested on the grounds that he had shoplifted a $2.95 greeting card from a store; the child had very likely simply forgotten that he was holding onto the card when he left the store said his mother, Jacqui Feldman. A teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome was recently shot and killed by police who had been called to his Illinois home; the teenager was in crisis and the call was not the first. This tragic incident, and the distress caused to ZH, should be wake-up calls of the need to educate police and first-responders about autism and disabilities.

 

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73 comments

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3:41PM PST on Feb 22, 2014

Im 13 with Aspergers, and these stories legitimately terrified me.

1:48PM PST on Feb 2, 2013

;Police are really not trained or equipped to deal with these incidents. We really need more mental health clinics and care providers and social workers.

12:59PM PST on Feb 1, 2013

We only had one bad instance with the police, when an untrained officer responded to a call, about a foster child who was dangerously acting out, It was a total disaster. The woman had been put in the position of responding to juvenile calls as settlement of a discrimination lawsuit. We moved ASAP, to get out of the town we'd lived in for over 30 years, after learning her superiors really had no way of controlling her due to the lawsuit.

5:16PM PST on Jan 31, 2013

44 grand worth of taxpayer money in a useful department to a kid with no use for it for "mild PTSD", what garbage it should at the very most go to training the police how to deal with stubborn brats.

9:29AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:58PM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

they need sensitivity training. people who are not used to people with autism can't really be expected to know exactly what to do

4:58AM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

THIS COUNTRY REALLY NEEDS TO TEACH POLICE OFFICERS, EMERGENCY PERSONAL & HOSPITAL PERSONAL HOW TO DEAL WITH CHILDREN WITH AUTISM. A FEW YEARS AGO WE HAD A BIG PROBLEM WHEN WE CHANGED OUR SON'S MEDS. HE BECAME VERY VIOLENT. THE POLICE TREATED US LIKE SHIT & THE HOSPITAL PERSONAL WERE ABOUT AS USEFUL AS A PILE OF SHIT. I THINK IT SHOULD BE A MANDATORY P[ART OF THEIR TRAINING. AMERICAN'S REALLY NEED TO STOP TREATING PEOPLE WITH THESE KINDS OF MENTAL DISORDERS LIKE SHIT THEY ARE PEOPLE WITH REAL MENTAL DISORDERS NOT JUST PEOPLE TO BE THROWN AWAY LIKE GARBAGE.

5:53PM PDT on Apr 17, 2012

That poor boy....

4:49PM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Rene L. “If you think education about autism is important, you should contribute to a charity doing that”.

Education re. Autism and other developmental delay conditions is vital due to the fact that such people are very vulnerable. Autism is not a mental ‘illness’ and cannot be treated as such. In any case, most of the time someone with an autistic spectrum condition is accompanied and the police should listen to those experienced in this area, In this case, the police ignored the boy’s carer.

Training is available to the Police from both charities and other agencies such as health. I am one of the trainers who provides this. However, it is up to each Police force senior management as to whether this service is taken up. Many police feel that standard police ‘methods’ are appropriate to all. They are only just catching up with the concept that rape victims require special consideration so other less well-known needs are still handled inappropriately.

4:25PM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

contd:
Following the incident, the parents of the boy made repeated requests to the the Police Commissioner for an apology, but without success. This official is still refusing to apologise and despite the judge ruling agains a leave to appeal has instead declared his intention permission to appeal this judgement. All the parents wanted was an apology, but the attitude of the Police has resulted in a huge drain on Public Funds.

In response to some comments here, the boy will not earn anything from this experience other than to fear anyone in uniform.

One of my professional commitments has been to provide training for Police Officers in the handling of individuals with mental health issues and learning difficulties. This training is entirely up to the Head of each Police Service and some do not take advantage of this facility. Suggestions that the Police cannot be expected to learn about every special category is based on the assumption that every officer would have to participate in all aspects. Not so. I advise that each force has officers trained in special skills who can be attached to any group as an advisor. Those Police divisions who do not see this as a priority are not serving the public in the way in which we are best served. This case is merely the tip of a much larger iceberg that impinges on the rights of those who are disabled, transgendered, gay, ethnic minorities, women and others who do not match the “one size fits all” approach to policing.

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