Report released on RNC’s arrest of autistic teen

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An adjudicator's decision has been released for a complaint filed with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission by the mother of an autistic teen arrested in 2009.

Diane Spurrell and her son Dane Spurrell are shown with the transcripts and other documents from the complaint over Dane’s 2009 arrest. — File photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

In his report, John McGrath takes to task the officers who dealt with Dane Spurrell of Mount Pearl. Spurrell was 18 years old when he was arrested in April of 2009 for obstructing officers after his autism was mistaken for public intoxication as he was walking home from a video store. He was later taken to the St. John’s Lockup. Multiple requests to call his family were denied.

Const. Lisa Harris — formerly known as Lisa Puddicombe — has been found guilty of breaching five RNC regulations. She was the first officer to come in contact with Spurrell.

Those breaches are for arresting and detaining Spurrell without sufficient cause, being discourteous towards him, neglecting to promptly and diligently perform officer duties, acting contrary to the RNC policy and procedures manual, and failing to obey RNC regulations, orders and rules concerning policy and procedure.

McGrath said in the report Harris failed to fully recognize Spurrell’s right to contact his family and that even though she admitted to suspecting he had a medical condition — specifically, impaired vision — Harris failed to respond appropriately in checking to see what medical conditions Spurrell had.

McGrath found Const. Rodney Priddle guilty of breaching three regulations —  arresting and detaining without sufficient cause, being discourteous, and neglecting to promptly and diligently perform officer duties. Priddle arrived on the scene approximately 10 minutes after Harris, according to the report.

The release of the decision comes close to three years after proceedings to hear the complaint first got underway.

A hearing date to determine penalties has not been set.

For more on this story, read Tuesday’s edition of The Telegram or check

Geographic location: Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • S walsh
    November 04, 2014 - 21:19

    I would like to point out that a police officer is not a medical Doctor and is in no way trained to diagnose and/or recognize autism. Officers Harris and Priddle had no real way of knowing just what kind of individual they were dealing with. Even if mistakes were made, were the officers to leave a thought to be blind, seemingly intoxicated young man alone on the side of the street? I'm confident that if the officers had been more aware of this young man's medical history, they would have been more sympathetic towards him. Police officers are not the enemy, they are our neighbours, friends and family. Perhaps the real enemy is our society's lack of understanding surrounding mental health issues, and no one is immune to that - not even police officers.

    • Dusty Ayres
      October 30, 2015 - 13:15

      The autistic ARE NOT 'mentally ill' , just not neurotypical-please read about the condition more before you comment on this again.

  • Megan
    April 05, 2014 - 10:58

    How nice could those cops be? Priddle and Harris! I WON'T be forgetting those names. Procedures are in place for a reason, you are not above the laws you enforce.

  • Person
    April 02, 2014 - 12:33

    Could the media please learn to use person centric language? A teen with autism. A man with autism. A person with autism. Put the person first. A person is not defined by their spectrum disorder. Thanks.

  • Michael Richard
    April 01, 2014 - 13:39

    The RNC think they are in Afghanistan somewhere! All you see throughout the city is checkpoints and roadblocks with officers wearing SWAT boots, you wouldnt know but you are on Route Edmonton in Kandahar!

  • Sharon
    March 31, 2014 - 23:10

    Glad to see that these officers are being called out for their ignorance and arrogance. They should both lose their badges (in the very least). Get them off the street. They are a menace to society. There is way too much of this crap going on with the RNC and it needs to be dealt with before an arrogant (so called) officer shoots someone for no reason. I feel for that poor kid. I hope this mother has started a civil suit against these two, the RNC and the Provincial Government.

  • JoeGatt
    March 31, 2014 - 22:53

    Sweet God, I thought our police force was the new police force, the new highly educated police force, anyone with a glimpse at psychology books at a university , just by observation would have seen this youg man has a medical condition, you may not know what it is but really. I appreciate the work of our police officers, I know they have a very difficult job to do and entertain some of the worse we have in society, however, to have stopped this young man and then detain him without cause, be rude or discouteouse, not permitted to call his Mom,,,,,come on,,,once situation under control a high level of professionalism is required, not personal feelings and attitude. i like an old quote once used by an uncle " you are not the law, you represent it". and where were this young man's legal rights.

  • Donna
    March 31, 2014 - 20:55

    I am very happy with the conclusions of this review. It took awhile but few of us will ever forget the story and how it must have been for Mr.Spurrel to be detained and refused contact with his family. His mom did a good job here.

  • Jackie Barrett - Newfoundlander with Autism
    March 31, 2014 - 20:52

    As a person with High Functioning Autism, when I heard about Dane Spurrell being falsely arrested five years ago in the hands of our so-called protectors, being RNC Officers like Constables Harris and Priddle, it not only broke my heart and made me really angry, but also the hearts of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with Autism or other developmental disabilities. That day, the RNC also embarrassed this province as they indirectly sent a message that individuals with developmental disabilities are treated like second class citizens. When I moved to Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador from Halifax, Nova Scotia almost six years ago, I learned very fast that this province welcomes individuals with developmental disabilities with open arms and not treat them like outcasts like they often do in Nova Scotia, especially the labour market. Constable Harris' and Priddle's actions against Dane Spurrell gave a province well known for welcoming disabled persons like a member of their community a national and international black eye. To restore relations between the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and this province's Autism Spectrum Disorder community, I hope that Constable Lisa Harris and Constable Rodney Priddle face some serious sanctions including being stripped of their badge and be banned from serving as a Peace Office anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador again. I know I sound heavy handed, but due to the harm they done to relations between the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Autism Community, only serious disciplinary action is the only way to restore relations between Police and the province's disabled community.

  • Mary
    March 31, 2014 - 20:23

    Terrible thing to happen to this young boy,a call to his mother would have cleared it up,it must have been horrible for him, so young and being autistic.I feel sorry for him and his mom.

  • M. Atkinson
    March 31, 2014 - 20:11

    That poor kid! What an ordeal to go through due to others' ignorance and arrogance!

  • Pete Jones
    March 31, 2014 - 19:00

    It is just plain discusting what happened to this young man..When I seen the way he was treated at the lock up I was horrified. Those officers should never be allowed to patrol our streets. All of a sudden I do not feel so safe anymore.

  • A Houlihan
    March 31, 2014 - 18:12

    I think that is unrealistic to expect officers to be able to identify all of the various medical conditions that people may be diagnosed with these days. If someone is diagnosed with a condition that prevents them to responding appropriately to an officer of the law then it should be their guardians responsibility to ensure they are supervised appropriately. All individuals should be taught how to recognize a police officer and how to respond appropriately when asked questions. I believe that the young male should hold some of the accountability for his actions or lack of actions.

    • Stacey
      April 01, 2014 - 07:55

      It may be unrealistic to expect officers to be able to identify all medical conditions, but the report said they arrested him without due cause, so how would this be the young man's fault? The officer's are also being accused of being discourteous to him, is that his fault as well? He asked repeatedly to contact his family and they refused to allow it. Once again would you say this is his fault? "McGrath said in the report Harris failed to fully recognize Spurrell’s right to contact his family and that even though she admitted to suspecting he had a medical condition — specifically, impaired vision — Harris failed to respond appropriately in checking to see what medical conditions Spurrell had." I believe that is saying who messed up here. It is not Dane Spurrell who is responsible for this it's the members of the RNC who acted unprofessionally and in my opinion, disgracefully. They should be ashamed and they should be held accountable for their actions.

    • Comment
      April 01, 2014 - 16:04

      A Houlihan, you have some very good points. A police officer is not a physician nor should he/she be expected to be. There are physicians who cannot readily diagnosis such medical conditions without diagnostic tests. I am not saying though that the police officers did act appropriately, there were some issues with their actions and thus have been pointed out. I remember watching on the news, the then Chief meeting with this young man and his mother to apologize. On watching it, I felt that this young man was not only rude to the Chief but very disrespectful to him and he was there on a very apologetic visit showing his understanding and compassion to the young man. I also felt that his mother was actually proud of his behaviour towards the Chief. Obviously, he is aware of his actions as he is quite an intelligent young man. If he was hostile in such a situation, it only makes me wonder how his behaviour was the night of the incident in question. However, the actions taken were not policy and obviously will be dealt with. Having a medical condition is becoming a justification these days for behaviour and expected to be a reason for not being held accountable, it is almost like an entitlement. Education needs to go both ways.

  • Duffy
    March 31, 2014 - 18:10

    Remember these Officers are making decisions and are not mind readers or social workers. They should be held to task BUT the real problem here is the P____ Poor System that made this family wait years for such a simple decision. Stonewalling Government Office People and Lawyers that could care less!! The complaint was in 2009 and she gets her answer today - sad commentary on the system.

  • Suzanne
    March 31, 2014 - 17:11

    That didn't take long, now did it? What is it about justice delayed, is justice denied - in this case, denied Dane Spurrell and his family. So do we need to wait another five years to see the number of days these two officers are suspended, or maybe the officers would like an immediate suspension for a couple of weeks so they can catch Spring Break in Florida.

  • Gerry
    March 31, 2014 - 17:10 Const. Lisa Harris still a police officer? If so, then why??