The Grapevine

Autistic Teenager Handcuffed By Police After Having A Seizure

A case of police brutality or police procedures gone wrong? Whatever the perception, an episode involving an autistic teen who had suffered seizures and erring police officers at a California fast food restaurant should serve as a wake-up call for proper police response to future medical emergencies.  

A 16-year-old autistic boy in a Fresno, California, hospital is undergoing recovery from a seizure that he had while handcuffed by police, according to his family. 

The Washington Post reported that the teen's mother, Lourdes Ponce, took her family to a fast food restaurant Thursday shortly after seeing a doctor about her son’s recent epileptic seizures, according to news reports from ABC 30. The boy then suffered another seizure, this time inside the restaurant's restroom, before Ponce heard him drop on the floor. As the restroom door was locked, she was unable to reach her son. Shortly after, the restaurant staff unlocked the restroom door and found the boy lying on the tiles. 

The boy's sister called 911, and local police were the first to arrive on the scene. Rather than assist the teen, who began to panic and vomit at that point, the officers instead handcuffed him and tried to throw him at the back of a police car, seemingly unconvinced that he was autistic with epilepsy as Ponce had told them. The Fresno Police Department said after the incident that they did it to “prevent him from harming himself or others” until an ambulance arrived.

Desperate, Ponce ran to her car and produced papers proving both her son's medical history and his history with epilepsy before showing them to the officers on the scene, who later released the boy before medical responders arrived on the scene to take him to nearby Valley Children's Hospital in Madera, California, for treatment. 

ABC News reported that the teenager is recovering from his epileptic bouts in addition to a fracture on one of his hands and bruises that resulted from his encounter with police. Although he is expected to make a full recovery, his release date is still unknown. 

Fresno police delivered a certificate of release form to the hospital Friday, which stated that the teenager would not be arrested upon leave. Ponce told ABC News that the trauma of the episode has made it difficult for her son to receive medical treatment.

The Fresno Police Department said that this case "is currently under Administrative Review," adding that it "will include the examination of all the information pertaining to the officer's contact including Body Worn Cameras."

Ponce later told ABC that she is upset about the incident and believes this will convince police to get more training on how to properly handle medical emergencies.

epilepsy Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical signals in the brain. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

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