A wrongful death suit against the Los Angeles Police Department highlights the need for police to be
properly trained in recognizing and interacting with
children with autism.
Mohammad Chaudhry, a twenty-eight year old Pakistani-American was fascinated with how people survive brutal conditions and made it a habit to sleep outdoors. The account of what happened, according to news reports, is as follows:
¨It started as a routine police encounter after officers spotted a shadowy figure lying under a balcony behind a Hollywood apartment building. The man, Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, was cordial at first. He handed over his ID and chatted with officers about his shoes, other cops he knew and how he stayed dry when it rained. Moments later, he was dead."
The officers in question report that Chaudhry was glancing around suspiciously and appeared to be pulling something from his waistband. The officer who fired shots contends Chaudhry pulled out a knife and lunged at him, but his partner saw no weapon, and Chaudhry´s heartbroken family contend a knife was planted after the fact.
Indeed, until the suit was filed, the knife in question was never tested for Chaudry´s DNA and when it finally was, there was no evidence that the slain man had ever made contact with it.
There has been an alarming uptick in the number of cases such as this, including a police brutality suit in Seattle over an autistic teen stopped for jaywalking who ended up with four police officers on him, a broken nose, and a concussion.
Some police departments have begun to educate officers in dealing with individuals with autism, but they are simply only one-hour classes. Autism advocates point out that law enforcers need at least eight hours of training in how to distinguish autism from psychiatric impairment and drug influence, then interact successfully to avert more unnecessary tragedies.
Dennis Debbaudt of Autism Risk and Safety Management, runs an organization that involves the training of law enforcement officials for just these kind of scenarios. Autism Key previously interviewed Mr. Debbaudt, who is an ex-law enforcement official and a father of a child with autism. In the interview, he gave some very insightful information about the need for the kind of training his organization provides. That interview can be heard here.
Hopefully, more law enforcement agencies will take advantage of the available training to better equip police offers and first responders in dealing with those with autism. If not, cases like the one involving Mr. Chaudhry will continue to take place.