Thursday, April 23, 2009

Canadian mother files complaint after police mistake son's autism for drunkenness

From the St. John's Telegram in Canada:

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A Newfoundland woman has lodged a complaint with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary after her 18-year-old autistic son was arrested by police officers who thought he was drunk.

Diane Spurrell says Dane, her son, was on his way home from renting a movie late Saturday when he was stopped by police.

The officers, who Spurrell said thought her son was drunk, arrested him and took him to the lockup.

She said she didn't find out that he was taken in by police until about 5 a. m., after hours of looking for him.

"First I was relieved he wasn't dead in a ditch,'' she said. "Then I was shocked that he was arrested. When I asked why, they told me he was drunk in public and resisting arrest. I was so stunned that he had been arrested.

"Then it dawned on me, `Oh my God, Dane doesn't drink.'''

When her son was finally brought home, he was injured, Spurrell said, adding she doesn't think he'll ever get over the encounter.

Trish Williams, executive director of the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said it's common for first responders to have difficulty identifying autism.

"It shows a need for more awareness and training,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the RNC is investigating Diane Spurrell's complaint as an alleged assault and, according to media reports, Chief Joe Browne has committed to formally apologizing to the Spurrells.