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VIDEO: Officer cleared after detaining, injuring teen with autism

Posted at 7:20 AM, Sep 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-20 07:20:12-04

BUCKEYE, AZ (KNXV/CNN) – An Arizona police officer, who used force to detain a teenager with autism, has been cleared of misconduct in the incident, following an internal investigation.

Police officials cleared Officer David Grossman, a drug-recognition expert, after an incident in July in which Grossman attempted to handcuff and detain a 14-year-old with autism, who he mistook for a drug user.

Video shows Grossman approach Connor Leibel, 14, at a park and ask him what he’s doing. The boy replies, telling the officer he’s “stimming,” a repetitive action often used as a type of coping mechanism by people with autism.

In Connor’s case, he flicks a small string in front of his face.

However, Grossman claimed the action looked like the teenager was sniffing an inhalant and trying to hide it from sight.

As Grossman draws closer to Connor in the video, the 14-year-old backs away. The officer asks for identification then tries to handcuff the teenager, who starts screaming.

Grossman forces Connor to the ground.

During the incident, the boy suffered multiple scrapes to his back, arms, neck and face when the two fell into a nearby tree.

The boy’s caregiver, who police records show was walking Connor’s younger sister across the street, then comes over, telling Grossman that Connor has autism.

In an internal investigation, a Buckeye Police sergeant, lieutenant and assistant chief all decided Grossman “utilized a reasonable level of force.” They also say Grossman had “reasonable suspicion” to stop and detain the boy because the expert in drug recognition thought Connor was intoxicated.

Grossman also claimed the “park is often frequented by juveniles who do drugs,” but it’s not clear if that’s the case.

The Buckeye Police’s calls of service records for the past two years show nothing specific about kids and drugs in the area around the park. Two were for “intoxication,” and dozens were labeled “juvenile problems.”

Local residents and employees also say they’ve never witnessed drug activity.

In spite of the internal investigation, Connor’s family is still anguished over the incident, according to a statement released by their attorney.

The family is demanding a face-to-face apology from Grossman and autism-specific training for the entire police department.

Buckeye Police say they are evaluating the requests.

During the investigation, it was recommended Grossman should get additional training to better distinguish between someone under the influence of drugs and people with disabilities and other behavioral conditions.

Copyright 2017 KNXV, Buckeye Police Department, Leibel Family via CNN. All rights reserved.