The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

State News

June 6, 2013

Police chief: Officer right to stun autistic woman

Police say woman wouldn't take her hands out of her pockets.

PORTAGE, Ind. — An officer who used a stun gun on a developmentally disabled woman during a confrontation acted appropriately when she stunned the woman, a northern Indiana police chief said.

Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said Officer Flora Ryan was called to a home about 4 a.m. May 31 after the homeowner found a 34-year-old autistic woman on his deck with a beer she’d taken from his outdoor refrigerator.

Williams said in a Tuesday statement that Ryan used the stun gun twice on the woman after she refused to come out from behind a shed and also kept both her hands in her pockets.

The chief said Ryan’s actions were appropriate because the woman did not cooperate and Ryan did not know whether the woman might have a weapon in her pocket. He also said that the woman head-butted and attempted to bite Ryan when she was placed in the police car.

“A Taser is a lifesaving tool, not a life-taking one,” Williams said in his statement. “I do not want my officers to wait to be hurt by anyone before they react to a given situation.”

The stun gun incident upset the woman’s sister, who told The Times of Munster that she was outraged by the way her sister had been treated.

Williams said Tuesday in a statement that officers didn’t know who the woman was when they stunned her. Afterward, they realized she had a long history of run-ins with local police.

The woman has had several contacts with police dating back to 2010, including incidents in which she had knives, rocks, a hammer, a baseball bat, had injured a person and broken windows in a garage and vehicle, Williams said.

Even if the officers had recognized who the woman was, Williams said they still would have been justified in shocking her with the stun gun. He added that the department believed the woman lived in a group home and had not been notified that she had been released to live with her parents.

Williams said officers receive two hours of training annually on dealing with people with autism as part of their mandated training.

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