Hays, KS— Over a month has passed since 36-year-old Joey Weber, who had autism, was shot dead in broad daylight following a traffic stop by a Hays, Kansas, police officer — but the explanation for the shooting is a tired and familiar farce.
Joseph Nathaniel Weber was described by his community, family, and those who knew him as full of life and excitement, had to die, because Sgt. Brandon Hauptman — specifically trained to recognize and interact with people who have special or different needs — feared for his life.
Before Hauptman stopped Weber, he had never had trouble with police — in fact, the ebullient man had learned to embrace his autism, and was a valuable, active participant in community programs and was a member of the Knights of Columbus at his church.
Weber joined activities and took advantage of services offered by New Age Services to members of the community who have mental disabilities. The owner of New Age Services also employs participants at his company, Joe Bob Outfitters, as he did for Joey Weber.
Weber’s life, by all accounts, was promising and fulfilling.
So, what egregious crime caused Hauptman to stop Weber — and ultimately cut his life short?
According to Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, who came under fire for being tight-lipped on the August 18 fatal shooting until now, Hauptman attempted the traffic stop over an improperly displayed tag and expired decal — but Weber, likely confused and frightened, failed to initially stop for the officer.
Hauptman pursued the vehicle into an alley, and Weber finally stopped; but as Drees explained, the man didn’t comply with the officer’s commands. Hauptman then attempted to arrest Weber for eluding law enforcement, but when additional patrol cars arrived at the scene, he again drove away.
“He was pursued by three law enforcement vehicles,” Drees described, as quoted by KSN. “He eluded the officer for several minutes and stopped in the 2300 block of Timber Drive.”
As The Free Thought Project previously reported, “Timber Drive happens to be the street on which New Age Services is located. As he was startled by the officers, it is apparent Weber tried to make it to a safe space; somewhere he knew he would be okay.”
People who have autism can become overwhelmed by excessive external stimulation — such as the flashing lights on a patrol car and shouted commands by officers — and might be too frightened or confused to be capable of compliance. Weber’s family previously explained he had low verbal skills and simply didn’t know what to do in this situation.
So when Weber arrived at the place he felt he could be understood, and officers continued barking orders, his stress and confusion worsened.
Drees told KSN Hauptman ordered Weber to the ground at gunpoint — but didn’t explain why the officer would have any need to pull a deadly weapon on an unarmed man in the first place.
At that point, “Weber fled on foot from Sgt. Hauptman towards a residence. Sgt. Hauptman gave chase and attempted to force Weber to the ground,” Drees continued.
After the cop successfully tackled the frightened man to the ground, Drees claimed Weber attempted to wrestle Hauptman’s gun away from him.
“Sgt. Hauptman, fearing for his life, pushed the barrel of the gun into the chest of Weber and fired one shot. Weber died from the gunshot wound,” Drees asserted, according to KSN. “Sgt. Hauptman reasonably believed that shooting Weber was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.”
Perhaps there’s a reason it took Drees more than an entire month to concoct this ridiculously plain version of events. Consider Weber, who never had negative interactions with police prior to Hauptman’s stop, and whose autism made communication difficult, and flashing lights, yelling, and an altogether unfamiliar situation just too much to cope with — so he did the one thing most instinctual in that situation. He fled to the comfort of familiar people and places.
Further, when the officer caught up to Weber, he pointed his pistol at the man and commanded him to the ground — it’s possible, in fact, quite likely, Weber had not encountered a firearm before then, and now one was pointed in his direction. People who have no idea what it’s like to have autism often react with fear in such a situation — so when Hauptman tackled Weber, the man must have been rightly terrified for his life. It’s arguable he wasn’t trying to wrest the gun away from Hauptman at all — but merely wanted to ensure it wouldn’t be pointed needlessly in his direction a second time.
Hauptman, who remains on paid vacation (administrative leave) until a separate investigation concludes, will not be charged for killing Joey Weber because ‘no crime occurred,’ insisted Drees — the officer ‘was acting in self defense.’
Drees had announced after the fatal shooting that no video footage of the incident existed, and although he backtracked in this announcement, saying both body and dash cam video recorded the encounter, Weber’s family requested it not be released publicly so that he won’t be remembered only for how he died.
Weber’s killing is a tragic addition to an already-lengthy list of victims who met their fate as a result of non-violent — and in this case, non-criminal — violations of petty laws. The tag on Weber’s vehicle had expired — was it truly necessary for Hauptman to pursue the man, considering he had the license number and a ticket could be sent through the mail?