The Los Angeles Times is reporting
that a federal jury has awarded $1.7 million dollars to the parents of an autistic man killed by a Los Angeles police officer.
Mohammed Usman Chaudhry was a Pakistani-American with high functioning autism whose keen interest in how people survive on the streets led to an encounter with Officer Joseph Cruz and his partner. The officers questioned Chaudhry as he slept beneath the stairs of an apartment house. Cruz maintained that out of nowhere, Chaudhry had attacked him with a knife and he had no recourse but to shoot him.
However, DNA testing of the knife and his partner´s conflicting account failed to support his claim. The jury unanimously found that Cruz had used excessive force and acted in “a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner.”
The trial put the City of Los Angeles in an embarrassing position. After the Chaudhry death, Cruz had been fired in an unrelated incident for lying in a police report about a prisoner he had allowed to escape. When Cruz tried to get his job back, the city successfully argued that he was not credible and no longer deserved to be a police officer.
Then, during the Chaudhry hearing, City of Los Angeles lawyers were placed in the unenviable position of having to argue to the jury that Cruz was totally truthful about the circumstances of Mohammed´s Chaudhry´s death and no choice but to shoot him.
Not enough police departments have begun training officers in dealing with the burgeoning population of citizens with autism in their midst, and those who have need to go into more depth than the cursory one hour course commonly used.
Interestingly enough, the $1.7 million dollar amount matches the same number of individuals estimated to be living with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States. That would mean Chaudhry’s family has been awarded roughly one dollar for every person with autism in the United States.
It’s unclear if the jury was making a statement, or if the award amount is purely coincidental.
Either way, the court victory shows that municipalities now have 1.7 million reasons to get more training for their officers so similar incidents are avoided in the future.