Late at night on September 4, 2020, around 11:00 PM MDT, in my current home state of Utah, a young Autistic teen, Linden Cameron (13), was being rushed to Primary Children’s Hospital. He was being transported from his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, after being tasered and shot several times by allegedly “Crisis Intervention” trained officers dispatched to his home by emergency services.
Cameron was in critical condition.
Linden Cameron, a boy who barely on the cusp of adolescence, was and is in critical condition. When the Police responded to a call from Linden’s mother to emergency services for a Crisis Intervention Team to assist with her son’s meltdown, Golda Barton informed the Police that Cameron is Autistic and was experiencing emotional and psychological turmoil in the form of yelling and screaming.
Linden’s mom also told the police on the scene that he was unarmed, a fact that didn’t seem to matter to them.
As can be common for Autistic people, Cameron was experiencing a neurological event known as a meltdown. He was having trouble processing the change in circumstances when his mother returned to work after being home for nearly a year. He tried to call her several times, but her phone was charging.
I am Autistic, and I reside merely 30-40 minutes away from Linden Cameron. And, it’s terrifying! If the police don’t hesitate to shoot a 13-year-old, then they will definitely shoot a middle-aged adult.
Autism awareness has made gains in recent years. One would assume that law enforcement and other emergency services would update and modernize the training of their officers when it comes to interacting with disabled populations; however, even though Utah is second in the nation for Autism prevalence, no updated or additional training has been done to improve services for our vulnerable minority.
This particular atrocity in negligence, perpetrated by SLCPD and Utah Government, is what brought about young Linden Cameron laying in ICU fighting for his life.
The fact is that the Salt Lake City Police Department, and most Law Enforcement Agencies, are grossly undertrained as to how to appropriately handle Autistic individuals in these moments of crisis. The people responsible for this level of neglect should be held responsible from Law Enforcement Agencies on up the chain of command to the Government.
To clarify, Autism is a permanent neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to socialize, communicate, and is marked by rigid or repetitive behaviors. Autism also comes with a plethora of symptoms such as self-stimulatory behavior (stimming), delays in auditory processing, sensory processing disorder, problems with extreme or unexpected change, avoidance of eye contact, meltdowns from sensory overload, and more. Psychologists and other specialists, such as neurologists, go through years of training and schooling in order to acquire graduate degrees in their field; however, when Salt Lake City Police Department arrived at Linden’s home, they might have taken an optional Crisis Intervention Training class that lasted a measly 40 hours.
To add insult to injury, the training video on Autism, which can be found in Salt Lake City Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Training’s online Video Library, is under 13 troubling minutes long! (12 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact.)
CW – police violence
Note: This is not a helpful source of information on Autism. At one point, the police officers have their hands on their guns when an autistic adult is called on by the store owner for going around opening chip bags and eating chips. The police immediately walk in and start yelling at him to drop the chips, with their hands on their guns.
He had no weapon, just a chip bag. There is not an ounce of acceptable autism training in this video. It’s also important to note that everyone in this video is a white male. There are no people of color who are autistic in this video. This does not help with the racial bias against autistic Black people, like Matthew Rushin and Osime Brown.
When a person is having a meltdown, the best practice, and increasingly common knowledge, is to use a low arousal approach. This includes turning off flashlights, not using emergency vehicle lights, not using the intercom system, using calm voices (absolutely no yelling), not making physical contact (because it’s painful or threatening to the person having the meltdown), using plain language for instruction (because we can’t process much in these moments), and giving the person time and space along with peace and quiet until the meltdown has stopped.
The reason for this approach is because a meltdown is an involuntary neurochemical reaction to internal and external environmental stimulation. Meltdowns are similar to a seizure and cannot be stopped at will. The Autistic person having the meltdown has little-to-no control at the time. Autistic meltdowns are not intentional, and they are not a crime!
Calmness is Key.
Unfortunately, this is not the approach Salt Lake City has trained their Police force to use, and it culminated in the attempted murder of a child. Linden Cameron suffered injuries to his shoulder, intestines, both ankles, and nerve damage. Those are injuries due to tasing and being shot 4-5 times.
This is dismal at best.
If Utah has the second highest prevalence of autism rates, given the training video we have just witnessed, then many lives are in danger of the same fate!
Sending anyone to deal with an Autistic crisis such as a meltdown with training like this is severely negligent. Law enforcement agencies need to be legally restrained from responding to these calls until they are educated on Autism and other proper disability and mental health protocols. I would go as far as saying that they need to ensure that police who respond to calls for mental health crisis attain an associates or bachelor’s degree before they can handle these calls.
The painful paradox is that the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) has a Mobile Crisis Outreach Team is trained to handle such situations. I have personally seen them de-escalate an Autistic 9-year-old in the past, but instead of consulting them, the SLCPD decided to shoot a child.
The mobile response team operates within Salt Lake County and will come to your home to assist and assess! They are more adequately trained to respond to Autistic people, unlike police officers. The UNI website even states that they assist individuals, families, schools, treatment providers, and first responders!
The SLCPD didn’t have to shoot. They could have called someone who could properly support Linden Cameron during his meltdown, yet they chose not to. Why, Utah? Why are you so reckless with your approach to disabled people?
Residing in Utah while being Autistic has officially become a nightmare!
We stand with Linden. #JusticeForLindenCameron