Police in Graham, Texas recently released body camera footage showing officers using a stun gun twice on an autistic teenager. Now, experts are questioning this use of force.
Michael Moore was allegedly throwing rocks into a neighbor’s yard when a 911 call was placed on June 26. The caller told dispatchers, “There is a boy that always throws rocks into our yard from the backyard but he kind of mess with the dogs, um, I don’t know but he looks like a grown man but I don’t know if he is all there.”
That final phrase (“I don’t know if he is all there”) was not relayed to the responding officers. Rather, the first responding officer was simply told “[the neighbor] advised that there is a male subject back there throwing rocks at her house.” The cop-calling neighbor also requested to speak with any officers before they approached Moore–but this also did not occur.
When Officer Olton Freeman was told of the neighbor’s request, he radioed “10-4” to the Graham Police Department dispatcher. But instead went straight to confront the 19-year-old Moore over his alleged rock-throwing, according to police records obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In the body camera footage, Moore is clearly unable to perform a field sobriety test initiated by Officer Freeman. The teenager says, “It’s not a big deal” and repeatedly asks Freeman, “I’m not under arrest, am I?”
After the inconclusive test, Freeman says,“All right, you’re not going to do it.” At this point, he and another officer immediately move to handcuff the visibly disoriented Moore.
The second officer, Sergeant Pedro Marrufo, grabs Moore’s neck with both hands. This prompts a lengthy scuffle as the officers attempt to wrestle Moore to the ground. The camera appears to fall off of Freeman’s uniform or is otherwise dislocated as the video shifts to an unhelpful vantage point: the blue Texas sky.
Off-camera, the sounds of struggle and pain can be heard as the grappling continues. Shouts of agony and suffocated murmurs ensue. An officer screams, “Hands behind your back–now!” and “You’re about to get tased!”
Eventually, Moore is stunned. He screams “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” as the police continue to restrain and stun him. Moore shouts, “Get off of me!”
In Freeman’s report, he wrote, “based on my training and experience as a police officer I believed that Michael may have been under the influence of some type of narcotic.” Marrufo’s report contains the same explanation.
After the incident, Freeman and Marrufo went to Moore’s home. His mother, Tracie Moore, then explained that her son is autistic.
Carol Weinman, a defense attorney and autism consultant, criticized the officers’ response in comments to the Star-Telegram. She said:
[Autistic individuals] have a hypersensitivity to being touched. If you had someone rubbing sandpaper on your arm, you could imagine how you’d react. So that was one mistake. In this incident, I don’t think it was called for. He wasn’t listening but he wasn’t threatening him…They could’ve talked to him more. They didn’t try to interact with him at all. This happens a lot with this population. There’s been a lot of cases where officers assume someone is under the influence.
An internal investigation cleared both officers of any wrongdoing.
[Image via screengrab]