Mesa, AZ — Kayden Clarke, 24, brought tears to the internet’s eyes after he posted a video of what he felt like with Asperger’s syndrome. However, less than a year later, this inspiring young man’s life was brought to a grinding halt by police.
In the video, Clarke recorded himself during one of his ‘meltdowns,’ which showed him trying to punch himself, but being comforted by his Rottweiler instead.
“This is what having Asperger’s is like,” he wrote with the video. His legal name at the time of this video and his death was Danielle Jacobs, but Clarke was transitioning from a woman to a man, his friends said.
“When I have a meltdown, I often have self-injurious behavior and I often self-harm,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post in 2015.
This open conversation about his Asperger’s syndrome seemed to have been therapeutic for Clarke. However, on that fateful Thursday morning, almost one year ago today, things would take a turn for the worse.
Clarke’s mom has since filed a lawsuit in Arizona Superior Court.
According to Mesa police, they received a call about a suicidal person around 11 a.m. — it was Clarke’s friend who’d just received an email from him saying “Take care of Sampson.” Sampson is the dog seen in the viral video.
When officers responded to Clarke’s apartment, they say he stated that he had a knife and was going to hurt himself. At this time, police claim, Clarke moved toward them with a knife, causing them to fear for their lives and they both fired their duty weapons.
Apparently, simply backing up was not an option — nor was waiting for the other officer who had just gone back outside to retrieve a beanbag gun.
Clark was “clearly confused and terrified” and screamed at the officers that he “would not be taken back to the psychiatric ward or be medicated,” the lawsuit says.
After they shot Clarke, an ambulance was called, and he was transported to a hospital where doctors tried to close his wounds. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful and later in the evening, his family received word that he did not make it.
Speaking with the NY Daily News last year, his mother, Stacia, said that this was completely unexpected and she was shocked.
“I talked to her last night and the night before and she seemed fine.
“Before the police arrived she wasn’t posing a threat to the community at all. And the police came into her own place.
“They shot and killed a 24-year-old autistic, mentally ill individual whom they had been familiar with and were aware of her special needs.”
No officers were hurt, and none of them were wearing body cameras to back up their story.
Just as Clarke’s mother said last year, the lawsuit also details how police have dealt with Clarke in the past. They knew about his mental and developmental issues. But instead of talking Clarke down, “the situation escalated dramatically and nonsensically,” the lawsuit states.
“They cornered [Clarke] in a small darkened room. Instead of trying to calm [him], the officers drew and pointed their guns in the dark and shouted demands, terrifying [Clarke],” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit now seeks unspecified damages for the wrongful death of Clarke and for “emotional pain, distress, hardship, suffering, shock, worry, anxiety, sleeplessness and suffering.”
As the Free Thought Project has pointed out in the past, the overwhelming majority of time spent by police during training is devoted to shooting their weapons. Very little time is set aside for training in de-escalation tactics, and most departments receive zero training in dealing with the mentally ill.
In fact, a study by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, an organization dedicated to eliminating the barriers faced by those with severe mental illnesses, released a jaw-dropping report titled, Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters. In the report, researchers discovered that people with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an interaction with police than anyone else.
According to the study, by all accounts – official and unofficial – a minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness.