Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fatal Shooting of a Man with ASD

Last night my quiet street was turned into an episode of "Cops" reality TV as 11 police cars with blaring sirens and flashing lights wrapped up a city wide car case in front on my house! When I saw police; yelling at the driver and running with shot guns all I could think about was get the kids and don’t let go of Nicky or he might end up dead. I watched the driver, a young man finally come out of his car,get down on his knees and follow the officers commands. I was relieved when he was arrested and no gun fire had been exchanged.

If you don't have, or don't know a child with Autism, you might think this sounds dramatic. But if you know our kids, you know how vulnerable they are. They lack understanding of social dangers and if the police yelled, "Get Back", "Stop", "Hands over your head", "Drop to your knees" these commands could mean nothing. Our kids might jump up and down or flap their hands, or laugh and in the end, our innocent children could be shot, maybe even fatally, because their actions would be mis-read by the police, who do not have the ability - especially in tense situations- to recognize autism.

Seeing this scenario flooded my mind with visions of what could happen to my son if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I kept imagining what Nicky might do if he was suddenly surrounded by police, guns drawn, yelling. I managed to push images of him being shot as tense police shouted directions to him, which he didn't understand. I finally pushed my fear out of my mind and went to sleep. Then I woke up to the headline “27 Year Old Man with Autism Fatally Shot By LAPD”.

I am a parent of male, African American with Autism. I live in a city where the police have been trained to shoot to kill and have not received adequate training in identifying and communicating with individuals with developmental disabilities, including Autism. I do not believe it was an accident the police chase ended in front of my house. I think it was my WAKE UP CALL, that we have not yet found a way to safely and successfully include individuals with autism into our communities.

With one in every 80 boys diagnosed with ASD, we are all living with autism. We will all be touched by a person who has autism; in our schools, churches, families or work. As a civilized society, we know that individuals with autism deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any member of our community. As a civilized society we must demand that ALL first responders get adequate training in recognizing ASD before another life is lost. The story from the Los Angeles Times is below. I hope you will find the time to read it and I hope it moves you to do what you can.

Police fatally shoot unarmed man in Koreatown

Steven Eugene Washington, 27, didn't respond to commands and seemed to reach for a weapon, officers say. Relatives say he had learning disabilities and was generally afraid of strangers.

Frankie Washington mourns the death of her nephew. Relatives say that Steven Eugene Washington, 27, was not a violent man and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times / March 20, 2010)

By Jason Song
March 21, 2010
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Los Angeles Police officers shot and killed a man in Koreatown early Saturday morning after he reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said.

Steven Eugene Washington, 27, died from a single gunshot wound to the head shortly after midnight.

Although no weapon was found, officers said they feared for their lives because Washington did not respond to their commands and appeared to be reaching for his waistband.

Hours after the shooting, Washington's relatives criticized police and said the dead man had suffered from learning disabilities and was generally afraid of strangers. They insisted that he was not violent and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend.

Police identified the gang enforcement officers involved as Allan Corrales and George Diego, who have served nearly seven and eight years with the department, respectively. Both have been reassigned until the probe is completed, police said.

Corrales and Diego were driving south on Vermont Avenue near James M. Wood Boulevard shortly after midnight in a marked police car when they heard a loud sound, according to police. They turned the car around and saw Washington walking north on Vermont while looking around and touching something in his waistband area.

The officers spoke to Washington, but he approached them and seemed to remove something from his waistband, police said.

Corrales and Diego believed "he was arming himself" and fired, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said at an afternoon news conference.

"The officers made decisions in a fraction of a second," he added.

It appears the officers fired once each, Paysinger said. It's unclear which bullet struck Washington.

Washington's family said he was autistic and had learning disabilities but enjoyed riding the bus and trains. He was taking classes at a community college and wanted to become a mechanic. He often took the Metro Red Line subway to visit friends and was probably walking to his home a few blocks to the south, his family said.

Washington was generally wary around strangers and sometimes shy even around family members.

"That's what we lost today: a kid," said his aunt, Vickie Thompson.


  1. Thank you so much for keeping us focused on the vulnerability of our innocent young treasures, who struggle each day, with ASD. When I saw this news report, I was so outraged!!! I was screaming at the television and called several friends who weren't yet aware (Was sure you probably were already). At this point in time, the boldfaced insensitivity and murderous tactics of L.A.'s so called, "finest" is totally mind-boggling and inexcusable!

    The effect of your diligence is far and wide-ranging, more than you'll probably ever know my darling. God bless you and and your consistent vigilance!

  2. " I still can't seem to shake that shameful event that happened to that young man. Of course, now they will start to educate...I would say that was just murder... sounds cold but no reason that the police had to be so impulsive. Makes me sick to my stomach and that could have been Aaron. Wake up People!!!! . Need to catch up and thanks for the post Donna."

  3. It's always been a "crime" to be African American in Los Angeles. Everyone knows this--especially those who let this shameful status quo stand. What people don't know is that it is also a crime to have autism. Probably a huge percentage of those in jail are on the spectrum. Within the last five years, a man with autism was placed into the general prison population and murdered within a few hours--before his family was even aware that he had been arrested. In Los Angeles, of course. The LAPD is beyond corrupt, beyond arrogant. I am so glad we moved away from there, but I fear every day for my friends who still live there--I fear as much from the LAPD as I do from criminals. It is hard to say which is worse. This story truly sickened me. Donna, you've always been the first to light the candle of hope. Thank you for that. I wish I had some of your light-bearing qualities.

  4. Delete Comment WoW Donna that's definately enough to scare the pants off ya. As I was reading the story my heart was sinking into the pit of my stomach. I can't believe that police act like this immediately without any evidence that he was doing anything wrong. I think it is appauling that these 2 officers opened fire on a man walking down the street. The law inforcement protocol needs a total overhaul, you just cannot assume that every person is armed with a weapon or a criminal.

    An absolute tragedy that this poor innocent man lost his life (whether he was autistic or not) in a matter of a few moments for just walking down a street. The police officers should lose their jobs over this and be charged for murder. This man did not in any shape of form give the police any indications that he was armed and/or dangerous, they just automatically assumed that he was guilty of something. I can't even begin to understand why the police needed to approach him in the first place. I mean if he was just walking down the street minding his own business and not doing anything wrong, why did the police need to approach him anyway. They definately could of handled it in a more appropriate way and this man would still be alive today.

    I don't know how the US law enforcement protocol is actioned but here in Australia the police are not under any circumstances allowed to pull out there weapons unless there is an actual altercation with weapons or a battle with actual real offenders and even then they usually use capsicum spray or tassers, it's not very often that the Australian police need the use of their guns.

    Such a sad story and now the poor family have to live with the loss of their precious loved one. It makes me so angry when people think they have the right to take a life. I have often wandered and worried about my daughters future, if she will ever be faced with something like this on the street and I'm not there to protect her and it worries the hell out of me.

  5. i agree with u all too, mroe needs to be done, i put on another post a video that any of u can buy or download and give to ur local police station to have them train with their police offiecers, heres is the linek which we did too and we had our local organization train soem of local police officers. my mother fought with themd ay and night after a horrible incident happened to me where they threw me to the ground, and refered to me as retarded, we dont get bothered as much but still meet some idiot cops, and i wish in order to become a police officer or firefighter or even EMT you should go through autism training, itll help save so many lvies IMHO. either way totally sad what happened to that man!

  6. OMG!!!!!!!!!!! I can't believe Police is soo cruel! They have to do something about this...... Just because he reached into his pocket doesn't mean he was reaching for a weapon!!!!!!! If it had been a policeman killed instead, this wouldve been all over the news.... but, it wasnt. It was just another inocent person :-(

  7. Donna: I feel the same way you do. I read that story too, and it just broke my heart as well as scared me too. I'm sorry that you had to go through what you had to right in front of your house with all your children there. I cannot imagine.

    My son is 19, (dx'd with autism at 3 1/2). He is pretty high functioning at this point of his life, but he still has issues. I'm absolutely positive he would have a problem with people pointing guns at him and shouting instructions at the same time - especially if there were more than one person shouting at him from all angles. He would become confused as he would not be able to process what they were all saying at the same time and he might raise his voice and yell back at them - probably to say that he didn't understand them, but who knows what would happen. I KNOW that my son would panic, start crying, and not be able to "deal". Even if he was told to keep his hands up or away from his body, I'm not sure that he could carry this instruction out in a paniced state.

    Each time I read this article about that man being shot, I think about what he was "reaching for" at his waistband. Maybe it was a "stim" that he did and he could not help it no matter how many times they asked him to keep his hands up or away from his body. Or maybe he had a card in his pocket he was reaching for that had his name, address, and contact information on it and he was going to hand it to them. It doesn't say anything about that in the article, but it has got me thinking.

    I mean, if he could not communicate well, he might have something like that on him. I don't know.

    I'm with you on this. There just HAS TO BE more education out there. There are so many more people affected by autism than when we started out. Our kids are going to be out there in the community in some capacity more and more as they grow up.

    These first responders have to be aware of their existence and what the "signs" are. Honestly, I wonder about all this - I mean, could they not have shot him in the leg or something. I mean, they shot this poor man in the head.

    Well, take care. I just wanted to write and say that I agree with you wholeheartedly.


  8. That brought tears to my eyes.... I pray that the police will fix this for the future.. Sooner than later that is.