- A mother in Salt Lake City, Utah called police late Friday to help transport her 13-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, to a hospital during a mental health crisis.
- However, when her son ran from authorities, one officer fired at him several times, causing injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines, and bladder.
- Police said they are investigating but were responding to a “violent psych issue” involving a juvenile who “had made threats to some folks with a weapon.”
- His mother claims she warned them ahead of time, saying: “He’s unarmed. He doesn’t have anything. He just gets mad and he starts yelling and screaming. He’s a kid he’s trying to get attention. He doesn’t know how to regulate.”
- Salt Lake City police have repeatedly come under fire for their use of force this year, and this case has highlighted concerns about police handling mental health calls.
Mother’s Account of What Happened
Police in Salt Lake City, Utah are under fire for how they handled a mental health call involving a minor.
Late Friday, Golda Barton called police to request that a crisis intervention team help transport her 13-year-old son to the hospital for treatment. Her son, Linden Cameron, has Asperger’s syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, and was experiencing what she described as a “mental breakdown” at the time.
As far as why he was in such distressed, Barton explained that it was the first day she had returned to work after almost of year, and her son struggles with separation anxiety. When on the phone with authorities, she told KUTV that she said, “He’s unarmed. He doesn’t have anything. He just gets mad and he starts yelling and screaming. He’s a kid he’s trying to get attention. He doesn’t know how to regulate.”
When police arrived, she says she was told to stay where she was while two officers entered the home through the front door. Within minutes, she said she heard voices yelling, “Get down on the ground,” followed by several gunshots.
She told local reporters that officers fired at her son after he tried to run away. She added that her first thought was that her son was dead and noted that officers did not immediately reassure her that he wasn’t. She also claimed that her son was put in handcuffs.
Police Account of the Incident
As far as how authorities have described the incident, in a press briefing early Saturday, Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Keith Horrocks said officers were called to the scene shortly after 10 p.m.
He said they were responding to a “violent psych issue” involving a juvenile who “had made threats to some folks with a weapon.” Without naming Cameron, he said the boy fled from the address and one officer fired at him during a “short foot pursuit.”
When asked by reporters if a weapon was recovered, he said there was no indication that the subject had a weapon, but stressed that the investigation was in its early stages. That’s something another department spokesperson later told CNN, saying: “Mom can say whatever she wants, but there’s this investigation that has to happen and this process that has to take place.”
On the scene, Officers rendered aid to Cameron until he was taken to the hospital in serious condition. According to a GoFundMe page created by a family friend, the boy suffered injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines, and bladder.
“The long term effects of his injuries are still unknown, but it is likely that his recovery will be long and require multiple kinds of treatment,” the page reads.
Shooting Sparks Conversations About Police Responding Mental Health Calls
When speaking to KUTV, Barton criticized police for how they handled the incident, questioning why they didn’t use less aggressive tactics.
“Why didn’t they tase him? Why didn’t they shoot him with a rubber bullet?” He’s a small child. Why don’t you just tackle him? You are big police officers with massive amounts of resources. Come on, give me a break,” she said.
Now, this case has added to the widespread frustrations with police, and it’s being used to highlight concerns about officers responding to mental health calls.
According to research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are disproportionately injured in interactions with the police and are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population.
Neurodiverse Utah, a grassroots organization that promotes autism acceptance and self-advocacy, said in a Facebook statement that people are less likely to be able to think rationally and respond promptly when they are experiencing a mental health crisis.
“Police were called because help was needed but instead more harm was done when officers from the SLPD expected a 13-year-old experiencing a mental health episode to act calmer and collected than adult trained officers,” it added.
As for what comes next with this case, the department stated Tuesday that the investigation is being conducted by “a protocol team made up of officers from multiple agencies with no ties to the Salt Lake City Police Department.”
The city’s review board and the police department’s internal affairs division will also conduct “parallel separate investigations.” Police said they did not anticipate having any further updates until bodycam footage is released, which occurs within 10 business days from the incident.
Still, those statements have done little to help ease concerns since police in the city are already heavily criticized by members of the community. The city is still reeling the fatal police shooting of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal, who was struck by bullets 13-15 times when running from police while armed.
Protests broke out in early July after the district attorney’s office determined that the shooting was justified, prompting Gov. Gary Herbert to declare a state of emergency.
Then in August, authorities suspended the use of police dogs in arrests after one bit a man named Jeffrey Ryans while he was on one knee with his hands in the air.
Last month, the city’s mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an executive order that aimed to restrict the use of force by police and promote de-escalation tactics, among other reforms. It was to take effect no later than Saturday, the day after Cameron was shot.
As far as this specific incident, Mendenhall issued a statement Sunday saying, “While the full details of this incident are yet to be released as an investigation takes place, I will say that I am thankful this young boy is alive and no one else was injured.”
“No matter the circumstances, what happened on Friday night is a tragedy and I expect this investigation to be handled swiftly and transparently for the sake of everyone involved.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (KUTV) (The New York Times)
Supreme Court Sides With High School Cheerleader Punished for Cursing on Snapchat
The justices ruled that the student’s year-long suspension from her school’s cheer team over an expletive-filled Snapchat was too severe because her post was not disruptive.
SCOTUS Rules in Free Speech Case
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment when it handed a cheerleader a year-long suspension from her team after she sent friends an expletive-filled Snapchat outside school grounds.
The case in question centered around a snap sent in 2017 by now-18-year-old Brandi Levy in which she expressed frustration at not making her high school’s varsity cheer squad. The snap, sent on a Saturday from a convenience store, shows Levy and a friend flipping off the camera with the caption: “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything.”
That post was sent to around 250 people, including other cheerleaders at her school. When her coaches were alerted to the post, they suspended her from cheerleading for a year.
Levy and her family, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district, arguing that it had no right to punish her for off-campus speech.
A federal appeals court agreed with that argument, ruling that schools could not regulate speech outside school grounds. That decision marked the first time that an appeals court had issued such a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 student speech ruling.
In that case, SCOTUS allowed students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, declaring that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The high court did specify that disruptive speech on school grounds could be punished.
Off-Campus Speech Questions Left Unresolved
In Wednesday’s decision, the justices agreed that Levy’s punishment was too severe because her speech did not meet the test of being disruptive. However, they did not uphold the appeals court decision that schools never have a role in disciplining students for off-campus speech.
“The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion for the court’s majority. “Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus.”
Breyer also added that specific question would be left for “future cases.”
In the sole dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas objected to that approach, arguing that Levy’s language met the threshold for speech that is disruptive and thus can be regulated off-campus based on past precedent. His colleagues’ ruling, he wrote, “is untethered from anything stable, and courts (and schools) will almost certainly be at a loss as to what exactly the court’s opinion today means.”
Both opinions are significant because while the majority decision focused more narrowly on whether the speech, in this case, was disruptive, the justices appear to be opening up space for a case that centers more specifically around the power of schools to regulate student speech off-campus.
Still, Levy and the ACLU cheered the decision as a victory for student speech off-campus, despite the court’s lack of ruling on the subject.
“Young people need to have the ability to express themselves without worrying about being punished when they get to school,” Levy said in a statement.
“The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs,” ACLU’s legal director David Cole added in separate remarks. “If the court had accepted that argument, it would have put in peril all manner of young people’s speech, including their expression on politics, school operations, and general teen frustrations.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Biden To Outline Actions Aimed at Combatting the Recent Rise in Violent Crime and Gun Violence
The president’s orders come the same day the Associated Press released data showing that a record number of gun sales were stopped last year because of background checks.
President Biden Issues Orders on Violent Crime Rise
President Biden will outline several actions on Wednesday that his administration plans to take to curb the recent rise in violent crime and gun violence.
That includes tougher enforcement policies for federal gun control laws, as well as new guidelines for how cities and states can use COVID-19 relief funds to combat gun violence. For instance, those guidelines will allow for the hiring of more police officers, paying officers overtime, buying equipment, and funding additional “enforcement efforts.”
Biden’s plan also includes investing in community-based intervention programs for both potential perpetrators and potential victims of gun violence and helping felons adjust to housing and work after leaving prison.
Background Checks Stop Record Number of Sales
Hours ahead of Biden’s announcement, the Associated Press reported that background checks blocked a record 300,000 gun sales last year, according to newly obtained FBI data provided by a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.
In fact, the numbers are staggering compared to previous years. For example, background checks that successfully blocked gun sales last year amounted to nearly twice that of 2019.
Notably, about 42% of those blocked sales were explicitly because would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records.
Still, it’s important to note that these stats don’t necessarily mean less guns are being successfully bought. While the rate of barred buyers has increased somewhat from around 0.6% to 0.8% since 2018, the U.S. also saw a record number of gun sales last year.
Nearly 23 million guns were bought in 2020 alone, according to the consulting firm Small Arms Analytics. Alongside that record, the country saw another record when it came to the rate of gun violence.
Because of that, Everytown for Gun Safety — the group that gave the AP the new background check data — reiterated its belief in the need for stronger gun control regulation.
“There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms,” Sarah Burd-Sharps, the group’s director of research, told the AP. “The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time.”
Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have pushed against that idea, and some have even pushed against this new data on background checks. As Alan Gottlieb — founder of the group the Second Amendment Foundation — argued, the higher number of denials could be partially because of false positives.
“A day doesn’t go by that our office doesn’t get complaint calls from people who’ve been denied wrongly,” he told the AP.
See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program
State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.
Rent Relief in the Works
The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.
It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.
However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”
The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”
Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.
Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.
Eviction Ban Complications
Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.
According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.
State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.
Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week.
But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.
As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.
State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus
Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.
California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.
While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.
The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.
“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.