The family of a 9-year-old girl with autism are considering legal action against the city of North Port following an incident in January in which police grabbed the girl and put her in the back of a police car.
The girl’s mother, McKenna Smith, called 911 after her daughter ran away, which she did. When the police arrived, the body camera video carried by an officer showed that Smith had already found the girl.
“I had no idea where she was and by this point they had already sent you guys off. I did this 10 hours before, where I’ll start waiting … I’ll just wait, it’s no big deal.” Smith said to the officers at the beginning of the encounter.
The girl hides in the bushes and tells the officers that she doesn’t want to come out. In the videos, Officer Ryan Crosby can be heard explaining to Smith that he doesn’t want to take the girl into custody if he doesn’t have to.
“I don’t really want this and I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. Officer Jonathan Valente also arrived on site.
Ten minutes after the incident, the girl runs about 50 meters from where they originally stood and can abuse her mother and the officers with swear words.
While Smith tried to get her daughter to calm down, officials discussed the possibility of taking her to a hospital.
Concerned about what might happen next: “You have to Baker Act you,” Smith warned her daughter.
About twenty minutes after Crosby arrived at the scene, he saw him lean over and grab the girl by the wrist to drag her into a police car.
“You can’t touch her like that, sir. She was abused, ”Smith yelled.
According to Terry Cramer, an attorney for Wilbur Smith Law in Fort Myers, the girl was abused by a babysitter, and if her wrists are pulled, she is triggered.
The girl’s mother is now considering filing a lawsuit against the City of North Port for dealing with the incident.
Officers told Smith during the first encounter that they would have to take the girl into custody after seeing her push Smith.
“I understand this is a child, but as soon as things get physical with another person, from the officer’s point of view, it is time to intervene,” wrote Joshua Taylor, North Port City Information Officer.
According to the department’s training in dealing with people with autism, officers should speak quietly and quietly and seek information from a parent on how to de-escalate the situation. The training materials also explain that if the person is unarmed and reluctant, “use all available time so that the person can de-escalate without your intervention”.
According to the videos from the body cameras, it only takes ten minutes for the girl to run away from her mother and be taken into police custody.
“If you look at the entirety of the circumstances in which you have a child who has a tendency to run away or flee, you have a busy road just down the road. I think securing her is probably the best option to make sure she is no longer injured in a traffic accident, ”said Commander Michael Laden, who oversees internal affairs and police training at North Port.
Laden, who has a daughter with autism, said it is still checking the videos to see if officials have broken a policy. Nobody has been reprimanded so far.
“I see it in two ways: I see it as the father of a child with special needs. Obviously this was not the worst case scenario, but it is not the best case scenario and you see it as a police officer who does what needs to be done to make sure she stays safe, ”said Laden.
But lawyers for the girl’s mother see it differently.
“She expects them to come and de-escalate the situation. She will be waiting for them when they get there to speak to her and help her find a way to get her daughter back under control. We didn’t pull her into a car. Let’s see if we have to do something bakery. Not that, certainly not that, ”said Danny Garza, another lawyer for Wilbur Smith.