St. Albert RCMP mistake non-verbal autistic teen for adult after arrest

A 'suspicious adult' who was arrested by St. Albert RCMP was actually a teen boy with autism, according to the family.

By CityNews Staff

St. Albert RCMP is reviewing an arrest of a teenage boy at a playground over the weekend after he was mistaken as an adult and was showing erratic behaviour, however, the family of the teen says he is non-verbal and autistic.

RCMP say they received multiple 911 calls Sunday evening, about a man acting strange at the Lacombe playground. Police say they took him into police custody over concerns for his well-being and the safety of others.

“He was cooperative but was unable to provide information to the police in terms of his identity,” Corporal Deanna Fontaine told CityNews.

When in custody, the 16-year-old began hurting himself and was taken to hospital by EMS. Unaware of his arrest, the family of the teen called RCMP about a missing person, and that’s when police were able to identify who they had arrested earlier.

According to Bruce Petherick of Autism Canada, “when dealing with non-verbal, it’s so important to have that in the back of your mind ‘why is this person not responding?’ Perhaps they cannot.”

Petherick says he sympathizes with both the family and the police.

“No autistic person should have to go through this, especially if they are non-verbal, that needs to be stated. However, I do have some sympathy for the RCMP, or police in this matter, because they get these calls, they come in knowing nothing.”

Petherick says similar incidents happen all too often and believes mandatory training for law enforcement officers could prevent similar incidents from happening again.

On a fundraiser page, the family of the teen says he was released from the hospital early Monday morning.

“He is only 16. He is Autistic. He is not incapable of being unsupervised for small amounts of time if he’s in a familiar place and within eye shot of us. He was alone on the swings for 28 minutes while we finished dinner. The police swooped in and picked him up over the span of eight minutes. He was ambushed,” said the family on the fundraiser page.

The family has reportedly been in contact with Higgerty Law since the incident which stated in a letter, “We are currently investigating this incident with a view to recommending to our clients the appropriate legal course of action.”

The law firm added the family is wishing for privacy as they seek legal aid.

Meanwhile, RCMP say they are reviewing how they handled the incident.

“There were some concerns from members of the public in terms of how RCMP in St. Albert addressed this situation,” explained Fontaine. “So we wanted to make sure we provided some additional information about the circumstances that were involved here.”

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