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Ryan Gainer's killing reflects concerns with police force being used on neurodivergent people

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

They killed my baby - these are the words caught on law enforcement body camera footage after sheriff's deputies shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Southern California. The teenager was on the autism spectrum, and the shooting has again raised questions about police use of force against people who are neurodivergent or in a mental health crisis. Anthony Victoria from member station KVCR has the story. And a warning - it includes audio that may be disturbing to some listeners.

ANTHONY VICTORIA, BYLINE: Fifteen-year-old Ryan Gainer was at home with his family last Saturday. His parents asked him to do chores. He wanted to play video games and listen to music, and that's when the problems began and escalated until his mom called 911.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He done broke the door. He's breaking the window.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK. So has he broke the window?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No. He broke it.

VICTORIA: In the 911 dispatch call, you can hear his mom asking for the police to come get Gainer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They got to take him in. They got to.

VICTORIA: Body camera footage shows two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies arrive minutes later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Where's he at?

VICTORIA: As police move in, the teenager appears in a hallway with a garden hoe and charges towards the deputy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Hey, get back. Get back. You're going to get shot.

VICTORIA: And he does. According to San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus, three bullets hit the teen. Dicus says deputies had no other choice but to shoot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHANNON DICUS: The use of a Taser in this situation, with the amount of time, or the use of pepper spray would not have been something we would have been able to react to quick enough.

VICTORIA: But the family's lawyer, DeWitt Lacy, disputes that. He says the teen was experiencing another mental health crisis and that deputies should have known that - they'd been out to the house five times since January to help the family. Lacy says deputies did not follow their training.

DEWITT LACY: Law enforcement officers are trained to de-escalate situations where they meet persons with mental impairities (ph) in the field, but they did not do that here.

VICTORIA: The sheriff says deputies quickly rendered medical aid to Gainer, but Lacy disputes this, saying the officers left the boy bleeding on the ground, unattended, for too long. Gainer, who was Black, is described by loved ones as a cross-country runner who wanted to study engineering. Going on long runs was his passion, his outlet. Attorney Lacy says it was one way Gainer coped with his autism.

LACY: And the deputies had, on many times, brought him back home or helped to search for him after one of his runs.

VICTORIA: But Sheriff Dicus says it's not clear if the deputies who responded to the most recent and ultimately fatal call knew Gainer was on the autism spectrum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICUS: Obviously, we have a number of shifts. Maybe the deputies have never been at Ryan's family's home.

VICTORIA: Dicus says deputies are trained to respond fast and believes they followed that training.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICUS: We pay law enforcement officers to stop threats and to stop violence. And I think we need to understand that, in this circumstance, whether we knew, didn't know, the deputies followed through with what their training protocols are.

VICTORIA: Lacy, the family's attorney, says they'll leave it up to a court to decide whether that's true.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Victoria in San Bernardino.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAT SLATER SONG, "4 LEAF CLOVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anthony Victoria
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