Topeka, KS — A 14-year-old boy with autism was left traumatized and physically injured last month after one of Topeka's finest felt it necessary to throw him to the ground, handcuff him and then kneel on his neck in the same move that proved fatal for George Floyd — a fully grown man. The boy's mother is now speaking out and seeking justice for her child.
According to police, they were responding to a call about the boy bringing his dog on a walk without a leash. There had been no incident — meaning the dog never once harmed anyone — but fear of an unleashed dog led to a police response.
“At around 4:26 p.m. the officer located the 14-year-old in the neighborhood a third time and conducted a pedestrian stop,” the police Facebook post said. “He did not comply with the officer’s commands. A use of force was generated when he was taken to the ground and handcuffed.”
The officer informed the boy that he was in violation of city law the first time and told him to take the “goddamn dog home” the second time, according to body-camera footage detailed in the audit report, and reported on by VICE.
The boy — who was likely scared to death when the armed man began yelling at him — did not immediately comply and decided to keep riding his bicycle home. When the officer finally caught up to the boy, violent force was used against him and his dog.
After the incident, Marlena Mitchiner, the boy's mother put out a statement through four individuals who are advocating on her behalf, noting that officials need to “take a thorough look and make necessary changes” to Topeka police use-of-force policies.
In a report from CJ Online, the advocates said Police Chief Bill Cochran “has stated on several occasions that they do not use the ‘knee on the neck’ technique, but in this case, the officer did” — and the victim was a small child.
This knee to the neck is evidenced by the still capture above and on the officer's body camera footage. Exactly why an officer would feel it necessary to throw a small child to the ground, handcuff him, pepper spray his dog, and then kneel down on that child's neck for riding his bicycle away, is a mystery. In the officer's report, however, he claimed that it was necessary for officer safety.
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“In that moment it was essential that I take custody of juvenile as quickly as possible due to my inability to call for assistance earlier, the presence of his dog that had acted aggressively towards me, and that now two unknown people who appeared to know (the child) were approaching us on foot,” he said, according to the auditor’s report. “Forcing the juvenile to the ground at that moment was the fastest way to place him in handcuffs so I could address the other potential threats on scene and call for assistance.”
Though he claimed the dog "acted aggressively" toward him, the image shows the dog simply hanging out near him despite the boy being attacked by the officer and despite the officer spraying the dog with a chemical weapon.
Days after the incident, the city’s Independent Police Auditor, Ed Collazo, opened an investigation into the officer David Ziegler's actions and released the report this week. He noted that though officer Ziegler's actions were concerning, he followed procedure.
“Officers should determine how to treat a citizen based on the totality of the circumstances and not simply follow the same pattern for every case,” Collazo concludes in the report. “The IPA sees the encounter with the juvenile and the judgment used by the officer as concerning. During the second contact for handcuffing, the Juvenile still had his hands behind his back and only took a few steps forward. He had four seconds where he could have run away from the officer, before being re-engaged by the officer and taken to the ground.”
Mitchiner, who asked the IPA to open the investigation, doesn't think the investigation was hard enough on the officer. We agree.
“I cannot say it enough times: The way that we approach, act, and react to a person is so incredibly important and can 100% direct how an interaction goes,” the boy’s mother said Tuesday. “When one is an officer of the law, this applies to them even more; one must be held to the highest of standards, and further situations like this can be prevented.”
Sadly, as TFTP has reported time and again, officers are severely under-trained and careless when it comes to dealing with children on the spectrum. In September, we reported on the officers in Salt Lake City, Ut. who gunned down an autistic 13-year-old child after her mother called police for help.
Before that, TFTP reported on the case of Lourdes Ponce and her 16-year-old son with autism who fell out during dinner at a local restaurant and was on the floor of the bathroom having a seizure. When her mother called 911 for an ambulance, cops showed up instead of paramedics. According to Ponce, police mistook David's seizure for drug use and began attacking him.
The list goes on.