Did Police Really Have to Tase an 11-Year-Old Autistic Girl?

After a motorist reported that he had seen a young woman walking on the side of an interstate in Oregon in the early morning hours of June 16, an Oregon state police trooper used a taser on her. The girl, as it was only later discovered, was 11 years old and autistic; her father, Aram Hampson explained that state troopers had previously  responded to calls about her leaving home.

“Elopement behavior” — wandering away — is not uncommon among autistic children. A study in Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) found that nearly half of autistic children have been reported missing. A “substantial number” had indeed been “at risk for bodily harm,” from the possibility of traffic injury or drowning.

My own teenage son, Charlie, has wandered. I’m not sure why the 11-year-old Oregon girl did; I know that Charlie’s wandering is related to his also having an anxiety disorder that can activate a flight-or-fight response in him.

In New Jersey where we live, first responders including police officers and emergency medical technicians must receive training in an awareness program about dealing with situations involving autistic individuals and with other disabilities. I’m grateful to say that, in our experience, this training has been effective. Police officers have turned off their sirens and flashing lights (which can deeply agitate an autistic individual with a sensitive sensory system); have spoken slowly and in low voices; have understood that Charlie may not immediately understand verbal requests and that some of his behaviors are not due to aggression, but from fear.

They have not pulled out a taser. According to KDRV, the Oregon state police said that the use of the taser on the girl was “necessary to prevent her from wandering further into the road and putting herself in danger”; a police report says that she had shown “no verbal response or cooperation.” But Adam Bednar, the motorist who saw the girl on the interstate,  says that

“She wasn’t going off the road, she was set on walking down the freeway. And I think that, had [the trooper] waited for back up, they could have gotten her without the Taser.”

Afterwards, the girl was taken to a hospital where, according to the police report, medical staff and troopers “started thinking she may be autistic.” They were able to identify her after contacting a local 911 center as her family had reported her missing.

As Hampson said to KDRV, the use of the taser on his daughter was “not necessary” as “there wasn’t any threat to  the officers.”  But ”misuse of excessive force on the mentally ill is a common police problem,” as Think Progress comments.

In fact, last year an investigation of police in Portland, Oregon, by the Department of Justice found a “pattern of abuse” and excessive force, including tasing, on the mentally ill. Excessive force (including tasers) has also been applied too often to  individuals with disabilities including intellectual disabilities. In some cases, police have mistaken unusual behaviors as signs of aggression. One official recounts a case in which an autistic man’s fascination with shiny objects resulted in him reaching for a police officer’s badge; the officer interpreted this as aggression and “all hell broke loose.”

Oregon State police say that they are investigating the incident involving the 11-year-old girl. Certainly, all officers need to be trained about interacting with autistic individuals and those with disabilities. As one publication says in an article about the police and autism, “any kindness, any dignity an officer can offer to such persons will greatly ease the situation when dealing with the person with autism, the parent and the caregiver.” Most of all, the article emphasizes “first, do no harm.”


Photo from Thinkstock


Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda3 years ago

Sad, she didn't have to be treated that way. It's a shame

Kendra P.

And, with 1 in 50 children now with autism they damn well better learn how to assess and recognize. I have a child with autism and know many more and every week I read another story of police tazing, beating, or shooting a child with autism because of lack of training. It really is an issue with mental health in general, they are really not the entity to handle those calls but we have no one else and it is often difficult to parse out which calls are which. We can at least expect police to have a minimal level of training that at least gives those with autism a fair shake. I don't see that happening except in a few rare locations, and really because officers have autistic children and understand that their child is susceptible to coming into contact with police and being misunderstood.
The numbers are incredible and "I didn't consider autism" is no longer an excuse. Whether naked, whether 4 in the morning, diminished capacity has always got to be a consideration. This would not be the first nor the last officer, female or otherwise to realize she does not have the temperment to be an peace officer. There was nothing peaceful nor protecting nor serving about this entire incident. There are no excuses for what happened!

Kendra P.

Walt G...sorry but wrong again. The challenge and delicacy of police work is that they are there to protect and serve. So they are required to go into every situation with that in mind, while being ever vigilant for the unexpected. Having been in police work I know a few officers that lost their lives, the circumstances were highly charged and dangerous before they ever got there or complete accidents. While we know the rare case of a 90 year old with a gun, odds are granny is not a threat, but vigilance and not letting down your guard are life-saving. They do not go in like a bull in a china shop tazing, clubbing, or shooting anyone they come into contact with because it "could be" a dangerous situation.
The problem arises when assumptions are made and the inability to think on your feet and adjust your pre-assumed ideas. This trooper was incapable of altering her line of thinking and of seeing this girl as a human being whether druggie or autistic, really makes little difference when tazing is your first line of action and not a last resort.

Rainbow W.
.3 years ago

“Bottom line, the reason that Police forces have introduced CN/Pepper spray and Tasers is because of the prevalence of injuries”

I guess in Canada they don’t care about doing that crap, but here they have to be a little more cautious: people love to sue.

“I TOO have defused situations involving Autistic children/youth…having worked with them regularly for 10 years now. I’ve ALSO been jumped by an Autistic youth who had 5 inches on me and 40 lbs on me.”

If you are working with them, you shouldn’t be. I have never been jumped (but I guess that’s training and education for you).

“The first report, that by the cabbie, was that she was a ‘young woman’ who was naked, and appeared to be strung out on drugs. “

A trained cop learns to assess the situation and take the appropriate measures, not just take someone’s word. Furthermore, being a naked young girl why wasn’t the office more concerned with the girl’s safety then her own ?

Rainbow W.
.3 years ago

“Military women ‘lifting’ FOUR times their body weight? Really?”

Yes, they do. It’s not like weight lift dummy. [http://www.sealswcc.com/navy-seals-strength-training.aspx#.UdjebG1Bj3g] [http://csmng.com/2013/01/24/open-mind-leads-novice-to-weightlifting-victory/] “Cannello divided 595 by Ocampo’s body weight of 136 to determine the ratio of 4.375.”

Ain’t no miracle; done all the time.

“Scientifically, a study in 1993 revealed that women participants had 52% of the upper body strength of the male participants.”

You need to go to http://www.care2.com/causes/5-signs-that-marriage-equality-will-soon-be-a-reality.html#comment-5247601 where I posted about unethical behavior in science. [http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35543/title/Opinion--Ethics-Training-in-Science/] Don’t belive everything you read. I believe my own two eyes. When a 105lb woman can lift me 315lb and carry me half a mile on her back, with my 100lb pack, I know. Stop running women down.

[http://www.military.com/military-fitness/army-fitness-requirements/army-physical-fitness-test-score-chart] APFT, basic requirements, women often outperform men.

“FIFTEEN? I highly doubt it….but….it sure makes a good ‘family story’ doesn’t it?”

My brother still has the news paper clipping and the picture of her accommodation.

“Bottom line, the reason that Police forces have introduced C

Rainbow W.
.3 years ago

Walt “What THIS tells a reader, is that your answer is highly subjective and emotionally driven….NOT by the facts at hand, but by your own preconceptions and experiences in other situations.”

You love to use adjectives to describe others-a response that tells me you are being defensive. If you had taken the time to read my post you would see it was clear and concise. This article is about an officer who tased an 11 year old Autistic girl. I related my experience with Autistic children, how is that not relevant? Also how trained people often do not treat them well, how is that not relevant? And to state that I am repulsed by grown men who enjoy restraining children is a statement of fact.

“1. I’m not so much ‘defending’ the Officer’s actions,”

Sound like you are to me; and my post is not based on opinions, but education, experience and commonsense. If a cop has to tase an 11 year old she is sadistic. I work with adjudicated children and have rarely had to restrain them, and when I did I didn’t harm them, let alone tase them. This is not an opinion it is fact; many years of dealing with violent children. That is fact.

“Perhaps you really need to refresh your memory as to the meaning of terms like subjective, objective, fact, and opinion?”

Goody you can look up a few words. Pity you cannot discern the difference between opinion and fact.

“Military women ‘lifting’ FOUR times their body we

Walt G.
Walt G.3 years ago

. Yet you feel free to prejudge this officer for doing the same?
At 4 AM, a naked woman on the freeway, according to the dispatcher information given, training, AND personal experience (not to mention common sense) is far more likely to be someone erratic, irrational, strung-out…etc…and thus both a potential threat to the officer AND to passing vehicles (who could easily be injured or killed in MVA’s trying to avoid her) AND to herself as well…..rather than an Autistic person who somehow managed to escape her bedroom and wander naked onto an Interstate Highway.

The first report, that by the cabbie, was that she was a ‘young woman’ who was naked, and appeared to be strung out on drugs. THAT is the report she’d have received from her dispatcher. Do you REALLY think that she’s supposed to enter a scene like that with the presumption of the least potentially harmful, least likely ‘possibility’ in mind? We call THOSE people…”FORMER and DECEASED Officers.

Walt G.
Walt G.3 years ago

….I KNEW he didn’t know how to maximize his size and weight, I KNEW he wasn’t a homicidal maniac…perhaps concealing a gun or knife on his person, etc….all things that a lone Police Officer, with NO backup, on a dark, lonely Freeway at 4 AM DID NOT KNOW! You KNEW the child, you KNEW that the child was Autistic, a tremendous advantage for you.

The Police are trained to anticipate the unexpected, the worst case scenario, so as to be prepared for that eventuality. IF they weren’t, we’d have a far higher Police mortality rate than we do….something that seemingly wouldn’t bother most posters here. She is castigated for making rational, logical assumptions based on the information given….yet we ALL DO THAT ON A DAILY BASIS! I have learned NEVER to assume a driver sees me when I cross the road, BOTH from others’ experience, AND from my OWN experience.(whether in or out of a crosswalk) As a motorcyclist, I’ve LEARNED to NEVER ‘assume’ that all people in ‘cages’ know I’m there…or, in other words, I ASSUME that other drivers either do NOT SEE ME..or don’t care. (Some DO deliberately cut motorcyclists off, so having that assumption has saved my life numerous times. I strongly suspect that even YOU live your life based on ‘ASSUMPTIONS’ that are themselves based on what you’ve heard, what you’ve read, and what you’ve experienced. Yet you feel free to prejudge t

Walt G.
Walt G.3 years ago

) to pass the military physical fitness test, but women aren’t required to perform any…an acknowledgment of their lack of corresponding upper body strength. (they DO, however, have close to the same LOWER body strength.)

No offense, but I consider your anecdotal stories about the women in the military AND your ‘aunt’ to be urban myth material. Your aunt took on in physical combat 15 Hell’s Angels? Really? And held her own? Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido was known to take on up to 6 of his students at one time, and defeat them…but this is a man who spent his entire life learning and developing the martial arts. I worked with a black belt Aikido martial artist a few years ago who was jumped by three ex-cons. He left two unconscious, and the third ran away, but even HE had some bruising and abrasions, and a bleeding nose afterward. FIFTEEN? I highly doubt it….but….it sure makes a good ‘family story’ doesn’t it?

Bottom line, the reason that Police forces have introduced CN/Pepper spray and Tasers is because of the prevalence of injuries…both to suspects AND to Officers, with the resulting costs of sick time, disability, etc.

I TOO have defused situations involving Autistic children/youth…having worked with them regularly for 10 years now. I’ve ALSO been jumped by an Autistic youth who had 5 inches on me and 40 lbs on me. The DIFFERENCE? I KNEW he was autistic….I KNEW he didn’t

Walt G.
Walt G.3 years ago

[quote]Quote:” Merriam-Webster: Fact:”a piece of information presented as having objective reality
Cambridge:Opinion:” a thought or belief about something or someone:.

Subjective:” based on your own feelings and ideas and not on facts. Something that is based on facts is objective; used about a person’s feelings and thoughts that no one else can know directly or completely.

Objective:”based only on facts and not influenced by personal feelings or beliefs. Real, and not existing only in someone’s mind.
Merriam-Webster:Opinion:” a : a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.”[/quote]

Now, as for relative upper body strength, perhaps you possess more ‘scientific’ ‘knowledge’ than the studies that have been done over the years….but I doubt it.
Military women ‘lifting’ FOUR times their body weight? Really? That would be a medical miracle! Many women who weightlift regularly have yet to achieve a lift of their OWN body weight. (as in ONE) A girl in Texas last year set records….she dead-lifted 2.15 times her body weight….and it was newsworthy.
Scientifically, a study in 1993 revealed that women participants had 52% of the upper body strength of the male participants. Another study in 1999 found that women had 40% less upper body skeletal muscle. I’ve read that men are required to perform 3 body lifts (chinups) to pass the military ph