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Monday, February 8, 2016

A Death in Mesa

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people.  Police officers need training to respond appropriately.  When they do not, things get out of hand.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy reports at The Arizona Republic:
The Mesa police shooting of a transgender man with Asperger's syndrome has one Phoenix-area advocacy group calling for better police training.
Cynthia Macluskie, vice president of the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix, said the Mesa Police Department, as well as law enforcement across the Valley, need "significantly more training" on how to handle crisis situations involving people diagnosed with conditions such as autism and Asperger's, an autism-spectrum disorder.
The victim, known to his friends as Kayden Clarke but identified by police using his legal name Danielle Jacobs, was killed on Thursday after he charged at officers armed with a knife, Mesa police spokesman Det. Esteban Flores said. Police were responding to a suicidal-person call at his home near 80th Street and Brown Road.

Clarke had been transitioning from female to male and chronicling his journey on YouTube. In the videos, Clarke also talked about his diagnosis with Asperger's and the obstacles it presented.
Scott Shackford writes at Reason:
According to police, a team of officers showed up to Clarke's place, where they found him threatening to harm himself with a knife. According to police, Clarke approached an officer with a knife and "extended it out." The officers "felt threatened" and opened fire, killing him.

The police officers were not wearing body cameras, so we have no way of determining whether or not the officers' perception of Clark's behavior was accurate. According to police, one officer went to get a beanbag gun while another officer attempted to de-escalate the situation. But obviously that didn't happen.
Worthy of note: Only a fifth of Mesa police have completed crisis intervention training to learn how to de-escalate situations with mentally ill or otherwise disabled individuals. But also of note: one of the officers on the scene hadcompleted this training, according to the Phoenix New Times.
The police said they were not aware of Clarke's mental health history, though apparently police were called to the home for a similar possible suicide attempt two years ago. A police spokesman said, "All we knew is that [Clarke] was trying to commit suicide."