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5 Times Police Killed People with Mental Disabilities

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet

The case of a young man with Down syndrome who was asphyxiated while in police custody last week has spiraled into a shocking national news story–yet another police scandal coming just on the heels of suspicions that LAPD plotted to burn Dorner alive. The tragedy began when 26-year-old Minnesota resident Robert Saylor was reluctant to leave a movie theater, prompting employees to call the police. Without stopping to learn from Saylor’s aide that he had Down syndrome, the police handcuffed him and restrained him on the ground until he died of asphyxiation

The case, which has been ruled a homicide, has sparked outrage and fear among parents and allies of those with developmental disabilities, as well as those with mental illness. Yet, this is far from the first time that the police of state officials have mishandled interactions with those with disabilities, with tragic results. As the Center for Public Representation writes, there are “significant patterns in police killings of people with psychiatric disabilities.”

Below are only a few of the recent cases. An investigative article in the Portland Press Herald put it even more bluntly, writing, “A few times each week, across the United States, police shoot and kill mentally ill people in complicated, often incredible circumstances.”

1. 15-year-old autistic child tasered by police in Iowa 

In Johnston, Iowa, police used a stun gun multiple times against a 15-year-old autistic teenager last spring. While this story made headlines because of the child’s age, the use of tasers against developmentally disabled or mentally ill people is quite common. A year-long investigation of the police department in Portland found that tasers are often used and abused–particularly against people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses. As the Seattle Times writes, “The investigation singled out stun-gun use, saying officers frequently discharged them without justification or used them too many times on a given suspect.”

2. Mute man beaten to death by police in Toronto

In 2011 in Toronto, the police killed a 45-year-old mute man for not answering their questions. Charlie McGillivary had sustained brain injuries that left …read more

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