The Buckeye Police Department determined that an officer, who attempted to handcuff and detain an autistic 14-year-old boy who he mistook for a drug user, used reasonable judgment and force, according to an internal investigation obtained by ABC15.
Top Buckeye Police officials cleared Officer David Grossman of any excessive force or other misconduct in the July 19 incident.
“I found that Officer Grossman acted within the law and did not abuse his power as a sworn officer and was not negligent as an officer during this incident,” said a Buckeye sergeant who reviewed the case.
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However, the department did recommend that Grossman, a drug-recognition expert, should get additional training to better distinguish between someone under the influence of drugs and people with disabilities and other behavioral conditions.
The family of the boy, Connor Leibel, is anguished over what happened, according to a statement released by their attorney.
The Leibels are now demanding a face-to-face apology from Officer Grossman and that every Buckeye police officer undergoes training to better understand people with autism.
Buckeye Police officials said they are still evaluating the family’s requests.
In the internal investigation, Buckeye police officials said that Leibel was displaying “suspicious behavior” that constituted “reasonable suspicion” for Grossman to detain him.
Grossman claimed Leibel looked like he was sniffing an inhalant and trying to hide it from sight.
Instead, what Grossman mistook for drug use was a repetitive action called “stimming,” which is a type of coping mechanism done by people with autism.
In Leibel’s case, he flicks a small string in front of his face.
Internal investigators also said it was reasonable for Grossman to stop Leibel due to his training and status as a drug recognition expert. Grossman also said the park where he stopped Leibel is “frequented by juveniles who do drugs.”
But local residents and shop employees told ABC15 they’ve never witnessed drug activity in the area.
For the past two years, ABC15 also obtained police calls for service for the park and surrounding area, including five nearby intersections and many stores and businesses.
Without reading every single report, it’s not clear whether the calls back up Grossman’s claims.
The calls show dozens of calls a year in the area, though none specifically reference drugs. There are two calls for intoxication. There are dozens of calls generically labeled “juvenile problems.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
READ THE CALLS FOR SERVICE
READ THE INTERNAL INVESTIGATION