JACK BURNS–Following a national outcry surrounding the violent takedown of an autistic boy by Officer David Grossman, the Buckeye Police Department is in damage control mode. In a press conference, BPD spokesperson Tamela Skaggs addressed reporters in an effort to explain to the public why Grossman confronted Connor Leibel, a 14-year-old autistic boy.
Skaggs described Grossman as a “drug recognition expert” with the department’s patrol division. As The Free Thought Project has reported, officers can attend a weekend training seminar where they learn how to escalate traffic stops under suspicion of drug use and charge more motorists with “driving under the influence of drugs,” even though many who are charged had no drugs in their system at all.
Reporters immediately questioned how a so-called “drug recognition expert” could not immediately recognize that Leibel was first, a juvenile, and second, a person with special needs—instead of someone who was high on drugs as Grossman admitted he believed Leibel to be. Skaggs said she could not begin to speculate or “get into his [Grossman’s] mind,” but said Leibel’s behavior was suspicious enough to make contact with him, apprehend him when he pulled away, and detain him.
However, Skaggs stopped short of saying Grossman took Leibel violently to the ground. Instead, she said the two both fell to the ground together. Leibel’s family maintains their son was injured in the process — having the photos to prove it — and they are demanding an apology from Grossman, for the officer to undergo community service within the Autism community, and additional training for the entire department.
When asked what are some of the things the Buckeye Police Department can and has learned from this, Skaggs said her officers may now be able to recognize stimming activity is a sign of autism and not drug use.
Another reporter brought up the hypothetical situation that could have played out if Leibel had put his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them. What would have happened in that case? Would he have been mistaken as having been in possession of a deadly weapon, and would he have been shot by the officer? Those questions and more were asked of Skaggs, but she said she would not be able to comment on the hypotheticals. She insisted that she wanted to focus on what did happen to the young autistic boy.
As TFTP reported on Tuesday:
Grossman approached Leibel and asked him what he was doing. The autistic boy responded with “good” and that he was “stimming” — short for self-stimulation — the often repetitive actions, movements, and sounds many if not most autistic individuals make to calm and stimulate themselves.
“I’m okay. I’m okay,” Connor screamed as the man he was likely always was told by his family was there as a protector, in that moment, became his tormentor.
Anyone who knows anything about working with autistic individuals knows how to spot someone who is likely autistic. There are the tell-tale signs of repetitive behaviors, rocking motions, awkward social interactions, and inappropriate speech responses in some. And one thing experts also know is autistic individuals get extremely agitated, anxious, and sometimes combative when they’re touched.
Grossman grabbed Connor as the young teenager attempted to walk away from the officer, an action which was well within his civil rights since he was not a suspect in any crime. But Grossman quickly told him not to walk away and attempted to place the boy in handcuffs after grabbing him by the arm.
When Connor attempted to pull away, Grossman took him to the ground and held him there until backup arrived, all the while Connor was screaming in agony and trying to mentally make sense of everything happening to him.
“Don’t move…Stop moving…Don’t you move, you understand?” Grossman told the boy as a dangerous situation could have quickly gotten out of hand. If the boy had reached back and grabbed Grossman’s gun, what would have happened then?
“Why are you acting like this Connor,” he asked. “Cause I’m okay,” the boy replied.
The young boy’s aunt, Diane, heard all the child’s screams and approached the scene. She told Grossman she was sorry if her nephew had done anything wrong but stated he had autism. “He’s fighting with me,” the officer said being completely untruthful with the boy’s guardian.
At that moment, the officer should have removed his hands from the boy and allowed him to get to his feet. Instead, he held him down (a no, no with autistic individuals) for what must have been agonizing minutes until his backup arrived.
“He’s doing something with his hands…I don’t know what that is,” the officer stated. “You don’t have anything (drugs) on you do you,” he ignorantly asked again.
Predictably, the Buckeye Police Department investigated the incident with Grossman and concluded “no use of force” occurred in dealing with the teen. But his body and the pictures of the damage to his body, tell a different tale. There are bruises, scrapes, and cuts on the autistic boy’s torso that were inflicted as a result of the fact that a poorly trained “drug recognition expert” could arguably not tell the difference between someone who is on drugs and someone who is autistic.
Following the incident, which took place on June 19, the Buckeye Police Department conducted their own internal investigation and concluded Leibel’s autism led to “suspicious behavior” which gave officer Grossman “reasonable suspicion” to believe Leibel was under the influence of drugs.
Just like that, a young man’s autism was declared to be a justified reason for his detainment and physical assault — in the land of the free.
They cleared the officer of all wrongdoing but added he may need to get additional training in being able to detect the difference between drug use and behavioral issues.
Watch the Body Cam footage below: