Nearly a hundred people marched through Calument City, Illinois, to protest the police shooting of Stephon Watts, a teenager with Asperger's syndrome. Police say he was threatening the officers, who have suspended, with a steak knife. Family members say it was a butter knife.
Police had been called to the Watts family home numerous times over the years and knew the boy and his family well, which is why relatives still don't understand why they chose to use deadly force to subdue him.
"This is a very law abiding family. We have a lot of love and respect for the people who protect us," Aaron Watts said. "These people were thugs who murdered my cousin."
Last week, Stephon Watts, age 15, was shot dead by police officers that his family called to their home because they believed that that was the only way they could get help with his behavior. Mark Brown of The Chicago Sun-Times rightly points out the tragedy of his death has more to do with the lack of support to autistic teenagers and their families than the specifics of what happened on the day Stephon died:
To review, though, police say they shot the 6-foot, 196-pound boy in self-defense after he attacked officers with a knife and slashed one of them in the arm. His mother, who says it was a butter knife, has accused police of “cold-blooded murder” and says they should have been better prepared to handle the situation after previous trips to the home.
Wayne Watts, designated by the family to do the talking because of the lawsuit, said his brother called police that day expecting officers to arrange for his son to be taken by ambulance to Streamwood Behavioral Healthcare Systems, as was the case when he was hospitalized for two weeks after a similar outburst in December.
Stephon was diagnosed as autistic at 9 by doctors at the University of Chicago, his family said. His condition was later identified as Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder in which individuals may have normal to high intelligence but struggle with social interaction. That often includes difficulty in calming themselves when angry or upset. “He was a beautiful person, Mark. He was a lovely child,” his uncle said of the boy he described as a “computer genius.” “That’s the only thing he cared about was computers,” Watts said.
What Stephon didn’t much like was attending school. On the day he was killed, he refused to go to a new school he had just started two days earlier, and his father took away his computer, triggering an emotional outburst.
His family believed they had to call police to get support with his violent outbursts, but no law or policy requiring them to exists.
15 year-old aspie Stephon Watts was shot and killed by police in his home in Calumet City, Illinois, after he attacked officers with a butter knife, according to his mother, Danelene Powell-Watts:
Family had been advised by social workers to call police if Watts became very upset, and have summoned police about a dozen times in the last year, Powell-Watts said this afternoon. Most recently, they called police Dec. 10, because he hit his mother, she said.
This morning, Watts became upset and did not want to go to Autism Therapeutic School in Tinley Park, run by Easter Seals, Powell-Watts said. Watts was holding a butter knife and had his face covered when he lunged at police, said Powell-Watts, who said she was asleep when the incident began.
Marcus Rhodes shot and killed 16-year-old Trevor Varinecz nearly two years ago. Now Trevor's parents are suing Rhodes, the Horry County Police Department, and Horry County Schools because of abrupt changes in Trevor's educational program and the staff's lack of training in how to work with people with like their son who have Asperger's syndrome:
Trevor Varinecz had been in regular classes for several years with a shadow, who made sure he wasn’t overwhelmed by his work or being picked on by classmates.
Varinecz’s parents said the school cut the amount of time the shadow spent with Varinecz without informing them, from 15 hours a week to 45 minutes a week the month before he was killed, according to the lawsuit.
Trevor brought a bayonet to school the day he died, and asked to see school resource officer Rhodes:
Rhodes told state investigators that Varinecz attacked him without warning after he turned his back, with the struggle quickly turning into a standoff. The officer said he yelled at the teen to drop the knife, a standard police tactic to "overload his sensory impulse," according to the statement he gave investigators.
But Trevor's parents said he was like a lot of children with Asperger's, where overloading their senses can often have the opposite effect. The teen yelled back he wanted the officer's gun because he had no reason to live.
Rhodes said he shot Varinecz in the leg. The teen screamed, but fought over the knife even harder, his pleas to be killed continuing. The officer then tried to shoot the teen in the arm, but wasn't sure if he succeeded. The move also freed one of Varinecz's arms, and Rhodes said he felt blows on his back. Fearing he might be severely injured and worried the teen would be able to take his gun and hurt more people. Rhodes decided to fire until the attack ended.
Police shot and killed Ernest Vassell beause he was walking around carrying a toy gun:
“They murdered him in cold blood for a toy gun!” cried Vassell’s older sister Claire Harding. “That’s no reason for you to kill somebody!”
In their defense, he may have pointed it at a dog. And he was black. And he did have autism.
On the other hand, there may not even have been a toy gun. His nephew Leon is looking for witnesses.
Vassell's family are now hoping for some answers. "We already have over 20 witnesses saying that they didn't see him with any gun," Leon said.
Police, however, maintain that someone calling 911 said Vassell had a gun. When asked if they could show a photo of the gun, North Miami Beach Police released the following statement: "Releasing a photo of the replica firearm carried by Mr. Vassell is still being considered.
"I have to do everything for him," said Hardy. "I wash his clothes, I cook his food. I do everything for him, you know? I don't believe the police saying this guy had a gun. He's afraid of police. He's afraid of everything."