A police officer in Salt Lake City shot a 13-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome on Friday after his mother called 911 seeking help for her son, who was experiencing a mental health crisis.
Golda Barton told CBS affiliate KUTV that she called police to request that a crisis intervention team transport her son, Linden Cameron, to a hospital for treatment as he was having a “mental breakdown.”
Linden has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum disorder. Barton had just returned to work for the first time in nearly a year and said her son suffers from separation anxiety.
Barton reportedly told officers that her son was unarmed, describing him as “a kid … trying to get attention, he doesn’t know how to regulate.”
She said she was told to stay put when officers arrived at her house. Within minutes, Barton said, she heard voices yelling, “Get down on the ground,” followed by several gunshots.
In a press briefing, Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Keith Horrocks said officers were called to the scene shortly after 10 p.m. to respond to a “violent psych issue” involving a juvenile who “had made threats to some folks with a weapon.”
Horrocks said there was no indication that the subject had a weapon, but stressed that the investigation was in its early stages.
Without using his name, Horrocks said that Linden, who is white, fled from the address on foot, and that one police officer fired at him during a “short foot pursuit.” Officers provided medical aid until Cameron was transported to a hospital, He is reported to be in serious condition.
According to an online fundraising page created by a family friend, Linden has injuries to his shoulder, ankles, intestines and bladder.
The page says that while the long-term effects of those injuries are still unknown, “it is likely that his recovery will be long and require multiple kinds of treatment.”
Barton told reporters that her first thought was that her son was dead — and that officers did not immediately reassure her that he was not.
She slammed law enforcement’s handling of the incident and questioned why they didn’t use less aggressive tools like Tasers or rubber bullets.
“He’s a small child. Why don’t you just tackle him?” Barton said. “You are big police officers with massive amounts of resources. Come on, give me a break.”
Neurodiverse Utah, a grassroots organization that promotes autism acceptance and self-advocacy, said in a 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 said.
According to KUTV, the police department issued a statement on Tuesday saying an investigation by law enforcement and the district attorney’s office is ongoing, and the city’s Civilian Review Board and police department’s internal affairs division will also conduct “parallel separate investigations.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune that while full details of the incident are yet to be released, she is thankful the teenager survived and that 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,” she said.
Police said they do not anticipate having any further updates until police bodycam footage is released, 10 business days after the incident.
Friday’s shooting comes in a summer marked by protests against racial injustice and police brutality, following numerous high-profile incidents of officers shooting and killing Black people, among them George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake.