Utah police must now try de-escalation first after officer shot 13-year-old with autism

Police in Utah are now required to try de-escalation first in most cases, a new policy that went into effect just hours after officers shot a 13-year-old boy with autism in Salt Lake City.

Golda Barton told local media last week that police shot her son Linden Cameron, who has Asperger’s, shortly after she called 911 because he was having a mental health episode. The shooting left Linden with injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines and bladder, according to a GoFundMe.

The policy states that de-escalation tactics are “mandatory prior to using force to effect an arrest unless it would be unreasonable to do so.” Officers must also try “effective communication” to get compliance from a suspect and not contribute to a situation “that could lead to use of force by taking unnecessary, overly aggressive action.”.

A mom called 911 to help her 13-year-old:Utah police shot him.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an executive order last month directing Chief Mike Brown to make this and other reforms to the department by Sept. 5, the day after Linden was shot.

“But I can’t say whether it would have changed anything or not,” Detective Michael Ruff, a department spokesman, told the Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday. “If they’d already been in place.”.

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The Salt Lake Police Department has about three officers who are crisis-intervention specialists, but they don’t respond to every call involving mental health issues, Ruff told the Associated Press. He said every new recruit is given 40 hours of crisis-intervention training at its police academy.

“We’re very comfortable with the program we used and with the individuals who are teaching it,” he told the outlet. “There’s more than one way to be CIT trained.”.

Ruff declined to say what tactics the officers used to deescalate the situation before shooting the boy.

Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Keith Horrocks told reporters last week officers were called to the scene due to a “violent psych issue” involving a juvenile who was “making threats to some folks with a weapon.”.

Horrocks said there was no indication a weapon had been found at the scene but that he did not know for sure if one was found.

Barton, who had just returned to work for the first time in a year, told police her son had “bad separation anxiety” but was unarmed, KUTV reported.

She said two officers entered her home and less than five minutes later she heard them order him to get on the ground followed by several gunshots. Officers didn’t immediately say whether her son was alive and later handcuffed him.

“He’s a small child. Why didn’t you just tackle him?” Barton said. “He’s a baby. He has mental issues.”.

The department says it will cooperate with multiple investigations. Mendenhall said she expects the investigation “to be handled swiftly and transparently” in a statement released to local media Sunday.

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The incident drew criticism from advocates as police face renewed scrutiny over their response to mental health crises amid nationwide protests over police brutality.

“Police were called because help was needed but instead more harm was done when officers from the SLPD expected a 13-year-old experiencing a mental health episode to act calmer and collected than adult trained officers,” Neurodiverse Utah, a grassroots organization that promotes autism acceptance, said in a statement.

Nationwide, advocates are calling for changes to policing, including an end to the practice of having police officers respond to mental health calls following the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man. Prude was suffering from acute mental health problems when he died of asphyxiation after police officers in Rochester, New York, who tried to take him into protective custody pinned him to the ground while restraining him.

Contributing: Steve Orr, The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle; The Associated Press.

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg.

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