Black Autistic Teen Charges at California Police With Gardening Tool

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Ryan Gainer

Nationwide — Ryan Gainer, a 15-year-old Black teen with autism, was fatally shot by deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The incident has once again brought attention to the use of force by police in cases involving mental health crises and its disproportionate impact on African Americans.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ryan became upset when his parents told him to finish his chores before allowing him to play video games or listen to music. DeWitt Lacy, a civil rights attorney representing Ryan’s family, said the teenager’s reaction led to him breaking glass on the front door.

When a family member called 911 for assistance, citing Ryan’s aggressive behavior towards family members and property damage, deputies were dispatched to the scene. The situation escalated when Ryan allegedly charged at an officer with a garden tool, prompting the deputy to fatally shoot him.

Ryan was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Lacy criticized the response, stating that the deputies should have used de-escalation techniques, considering Ryan’s known mental health condition. He emphasized that the use of force was unnecessary.

While the sheriff’s department claims to have quickly provided medical aid after the shooting, witnesses dispute this, saying assistance was delayed and that deputies prevented them from helping Ryan. Additionally, the exact cause of his death remains under investigation, with conflicting reports about whether it was due to gunshot wounds or a lack of immediate medical attention.

Meanwhile, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus has defended the deputies’ actions, citing the complexity of such encounters.

“Our social safety net for those experiencing mental illness needs to be strengthened. Our deputies handle seemingly insurmountable calls daily. Most of these calls do not end in violence,” Sheriff Shannon Dicus said.

“However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family, and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split-second decisions. While these decisions are lawful, they are awful in terms of our humanity. I feel for both Ryan’s family and my deputies who will struggle with this for their entire lives,” he added.

Moreover, advocates emphasize the need for stronger support systems for individuals with mental health issues and their families, urging reforms in law enforcement responses to such crises.