Buckeye officer who mistook teen with autism for drug user has checkered history

BUCKEYE, AZ - The Buckeye police officer, who traumatized an autistic child he mistook for a drug user, has a mixed record that includes high praise for his DUI enforcement but also multiple concerns over potential acts of cowardice and unconstitutional stops, records show.

Officer David Grossman was hired by the Buckeye Police Department in 2009.

ABC15 requested and obtained significant portions of Grossman’s personnel file after his controversial stop of a 14-year-old boy with autism made national news last month.

The July incident was recorded on Grossman’s body camera.

“We are very much advocates of law enforcement. They should be proud to put on the badge,” said Danielle Leibel, the boy’s mother, in an interview with ABC15. “This one individual is where I think there is some fault.”

Since being hired, Grossman has become Buckeye’s top DUI officer and often leads the department in drunk driving arrests. His work as a traffic cop has brought Grossman glowing reviews and multiple awards in recent years.

In 2014, he was named one of Buckeye’s “Officers of the Year.” Last year, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety named him “Impaired Driving Enforcement Officer of the Year.”

But his “intense interest” for traffic enforcement caused Grossman to neglect other areas of police work, records show.

“There are times he does not exert the efforts he could when engaged in activities he finds less enjoyable than traffic enforcement,” a supervisor wrote in 2010.

In his annual reviews, supervisors also documented a pattern of past issues with Grossman’s performance, including being too “headstrong,” “talking down” to citizens, and “getting too far ahead of himself so that he makes a wrong statement or decision in the process.”

In 2011, Grossman was put under an extensive “performance improvement plan.” The plan sought to correct several instances of unconstitutional actions, poor report writing and issues with his vehicle operation.

But most concerning, the plan addressed multiple police calls in which supervisors felt Grossman "failed to act" in critical situations, which violated department policies that cover “cowardice" and "unsatisfactory performance."

One of the situations was so concerning that a supervisor questioned Grossman’s fitness for the job.

“I am concerned that your situational awareness may not be adequate for the rigors of law enforcement,” the supervisor wrote.

READ THE PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLAN BELOW:

Grossman performance improvement plan by Dave Biscobing on Scribd

According to the performance improvement plan, the incident with the autistic boy in the park also wasn’t the first problematic run-in Grossman’s had with a teenager.

In an undated incident, supervisors wrote that Grossman “grabbed” and “wrestled to the ground” another minor, who he claimed was running away. While on the ground, Grossman twice sprayed a “chemical agent” in the boy’s face.

After the stop, Grossman couldn’t justify the reason for his stop and use of force. “Looking for charges after an arrest is made is unacceptable and unconstitutional,” a supervisor wrote.

In the case involving the boy with autism, Buckeye police have defended Grossman’s actions. For this story, requests to interview Grossman and top Buckeye officials for this story were declined through a city spokesperson.

Since the Leibel family has retained an attorney, the spokesperson said city officials won’t comment because of the potential for litigation.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com.

 

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