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Trial will weigh whether Buckeye officer used excessive force on autistic teen

Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 15:16:47-05

BUCKEYE, AZ — UPDATE: A federal jury decided that a former Buckeye police officer did not use excessive force or violate an autistic teen’s rights when he mistook him for a drug user and detained him in a public park.

After a seven-day civil trial, the jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before issuing its verdict, clearing David Grossman for his actions against then-14-year-old Connor Leibel.
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More than five years after a police officer mistook an autistic teen for a drug user, a lawsuit filed against the City of Buckeye will finally head to trial.

Connor Leibel sued the city after former Officer David Grossman tackled and detained him in a neighborhood park in July 2017.

Leibel was 14 years old at the time of the incident.

The trial will begin on February 21 and will last about a week.

The case largely focuses on two claims: (1) Did Grossman used excessive force during the arrest? (2) Were Leibel’s rights violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Grossman, who was a “Drug Recognition Expert,” stopped Leibel in the park because he suspected he was inhaling something, according to body camera footage.

However, Leibel was “stimming” with a small piece of string.

Stims are typically repetitive movements or behaviors that act as self-soothing or calming mechanisms for people with autism.

In defense of Grossman’s actions, Buckeye’s attorneys will argue that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Leibel.

“A string did not cause reasonable suspicion to go away because Officer Grossman knew that items such as strings can be dipped into inhalants, hand sanitizers, or rubbing alcohol and used as part of the process of using illegal inhalants,” according to pre-trial documents filed by Buckeye’s attorneys.

After the incident, ABC15 discovered Grossman had a checkered history that was detailed in years of performance reviews and internal probes.

In his annual reviews, supervisors 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 also 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."

The incident between Leibel and Grossman grabbed national headlines and later morphed into a growing embarrassment for the Buckeye Police Department.

In the wake of the publicity, whistleblowers anonymously sent a letter to the City Manager’s Office accusing the department and Chief Larry Hall of widespread misconduct.

Grossman eventually retired under a disability claim.

Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at