Parents of an autistic teenager in Buckeye, Arizona, have filed a lawsuit against the city and its police department after one of its officers was filmed brutally assaulting their son.
The incident reportedly took place in July 2017, when 14-year-old Connor Leibel was sitting in a neighborhood park, waiting for his caretaker who had gone to a nearby store. Feeling a little overwhelmed, the teen took out of piece of string from his pocket and began stimming – a term used to describe the noises and movements that people on the spectrum sometimes make to feel calmer.
It was a harmless exercise and Leibel wasn’t disturbing anyone. However, Officer David Grossman, who was patrolling the area, thought the African-American teenager could be doing drugs as he kept bringing his hands towards his face, according to the Daily Beast.
The body cam footage showed Grossman approaching Leibel and asking him what he was doing.
“I’m stimming,” Leibel replied.
Apparently, the officer had no idea what that meant.
However, instead of being calm and professional, he got closer to Leibel and told him to stop walking. Even though the teen held his hand up and showed the officer he was just holding a string, Grossman grabbed him for not having identification on him and pushed his hands behind his back to place handcuffs.
That’s when Leibel, scared of the unexpected situation, began crying and jerking away.
The video then showed the teen being slammed against a tree before falling to the ground along with the officer, who kept him restrained through out and told him to “stop moving.”
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” Leibel can be seen yelling in the video, visibly panicked and shaking.
It was only after his caretaker, Diane Craglow, returned to the park and explained Leibel’s condition to the officer did the cop release his hold on the teenager and let him go.
Now, his family is reportedly suing the city, the police department and Grossman “on nine counts, including battery, excessive force, negligence, failure to train, and illegal arrest.”
It was pretty clear that the officer had no training whatsoever in dealing with autistic children and mistook stimming for taking drugs, yet (ironically) the Buckeye Police Department described him as a drug-recognition expert and insisted he had not done anything wrong.
“Within 20 seconds of contact, Connor goes to run from the officer,” Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall told West Valley View. “The officer holds on to him and they fall to the ground. There’s no escalation of force at that point.”
The court documents filed by Leibel’s parents claimed the teenager was “forcibly restrained, slammed against a tree, and pinned to the ground by” the officer.
The complaint also made it clear the victim was not doing anything illegal and detailed how incident left him severely traumatized.
“A feature of Connor’s condition is that he often relives past grievances over and over, without an appreciation of how far in the past they occurred. Consequently, Connor continues to relive the events of last year in excruciating detail,” it stated. “He asks if he is going to be hurt again when he sees a police car. In fact, he expresses fear of meeting new adult men in general—something that he never experienced previously. His parents are anguished at the changes they witnessed in Connor.”
In an interview with the CBS News, Leibel made a similar comment.
“He pushed me down on the grass and he just hit me on the tree, and he tackled me and then he didn’t stop,” he said. “It made me feel sad.”
It’s utterly appalling how the police department has been trying to justify Grossman’s behavior despite the presence of the video evidence, but then again, racial profiling and excessive use of force often go unnoticed and unpunished in this country.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Eduardo Munoz