Autistic teen’s arrest unwarranted: adjudicator

Andrew Robinson
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RNC officers breached regulations in Dane Spurrell case, ruling states

Two Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers breached multiple RNC regulations when they arrested and detained an autistic teenager in 2009, according to an adjudicator’s decision released Mon­day.

Dane Spurrell with his mother, Diane Spurrell. — Telegram file photo

Diane Spurrell filed the original complaint with the RNC Public Complaints Commission following the arrest of her then 18-year-old son, Dane, in Mount Pearl. He was accused of obstructing police officers, who mistakenly thought he was publicly intoxicated while walking home from a video store shortly after midnight on April 19, 2009.

Almost five years later, adjudicator John McGrath has found the two officers involved in the arrest guilty of breaching multiple RNC regulations.

“I think it’s a very fair decision,” Diane Spurrell told The Telegram Monday, the same day she received her copy of the decision. “I’m elated, absolutely elated to finally have it.”

Const. Lisa Harris — formerly known as Lisa Puddicombe — was the first officer to come in contact with Dane Spurrell that night. McGrath found her guilty of breaching five regulations.

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.

“We believe in this instance it wasn’t (Spurrell’s) ability to communicate that caused a lot of the problems herein,” McGrath wrote in the decision, “it was a combination of Constable Harris’ frustration believing she was being outwitted by Dane Spurrell, her failure to follow the RNC Policy and Procedures Manual and a significant lack of understanding of the provisions in that manual and ultimately her failure to allow a simple phone call to and with his mother that would have put a stop to the unnecessary turmoil that followed.”

Another officer who arrived later at the scene of the arrest, Const. Rodney Priddle, was found guilty of breaching three regulations — arresting and detaining without sufficient cause, being discourteous and neglecting to promptly and diligently perform officer duties.

Both were found not guilty of using unnecessary force to detain Spurrell.

Spurrell requested to call his family multiple times following his arrest and detention at the St. John’s lockup that night, but Harris did not respond to those requests. The decision said her handling of Spurrell’s requests exemplified her inexperience with the contents of the RNC Policy and Procedures Manual.

McGrath’s decision also found that even though Harris 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.

The decision said Priddle’s inquiry efforts were inadequate and that he was too reliant on his fellow officer.

Asked whether her feelings about the incident five years ago have changed over time, Diane Spurrell said her focus has shifted from her son’s arrest to the complaints process itself.

“It was consuming,” she said. “It really wasn’t a very level playing field. I had no legal representation — or Dane had no legal representation. In that circumstance, we did have the truth on our side, and Dane was his own best witness. He got up and he testified, and the adjudicator found he was credible. But I don’t think it’s fair that we have to go up against probably the highest paid lawyers in the city.”

She said Dane is mostly happy for his mom.

“Dane is happy that it’s over and now I can get a job. That’s his reaction. ... He’s so kind.”

A hearing date to determine penalties based on the decision has not been set.

“I think one officer suffered immensely,” Diane Spurrell said when asked for her thoughts on the possibility of penalties. “I don’t want to see too much penalty added on to that. The other officer, I don’t think that officer should be working with the public. Whether that means that officer has to be reassigned, retrained or what have you, something needs to be done there.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: RNC Public Complaints Commission

Geographic location: Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • JasonD
    April 01, 2014 - 10:03

    So quick to judge. There are so many aspects to people with mental health issues that makes it near impossible to detect. Police are not trained psychologists. So the possibility that this young man was actually under the influence certainly existed. I agree that review of the demeanor and processing of the person can cause some review. And that is a good thing, for everyone. As for people looking to chop off heads, I disagree. I'd rather have people working that have had lessons and learned them. We can't discard everyone for everything. I, for one, believe the police have a hard enough job. This is an example of some bad circumstances and then some mishandling. But its a place that can be the genesis of some good outcome for future situations. I want the RNC to know that when things go bad, its ok to talk about it and find a solution. For someone to say "Well I handled that incorrectly, lets let others learn from it". If not, then the people involved are no longer able to work together to find a solution for all. Autism is an interesting and complex disease. Its prevalence is on the rise, its time to learn form this one, not blame and hate. Thats just ignorant.

  • Kirk
    April 01, 2014 - 09:32

    ms. Spurrell - good on you for following this through for your son. As a parent of a 6 year old autistic boy- I thank-you.

  • Gerry
    April 01, 2014 - 09:16

    What I would like to know is, does Const. Lisa Harris still have a job in the police force?? And if so, then why??

  • Darlene
    April 01, 2014 - 06:35

    WOW AND THIS TOOK YEARS...a handicapped child and the RNC couldn't figure that out...what a bunch of untrained people on the street...scary isn't it...way to go Dane...maybe the RNC should train people a little better...but there is no way to train IGNORANCE....remember RNC. The public are the ones paying you...cheers

  • Jeff
    April 01, 2014 - 04:53

    Now, let's hear from all the police haters.

    • D. Maria Paul
      April 01, 2014 - 08:30

      Although it was a long time coming at least there has been a positive result in that it brings attention to the police ignorance putting many in danger. I have a grandson that this could happen to. I can only hope police will take incidences like this into account to change how they conduct their duties. They need to weed out the hot heads, and aggressive attitudes, and focus on REAL community policing.

    • hslaw
      April 01, 2014 - 09:47

      I this incident there will be no police haters or there shouldn't be. An adjusted attitude and a LOT of training is what's needed. And if the mom is right Maybe Just maybe the police force is not a chosen field for one of them Have to remember most anyone can do a job but not everyone is good at it

    • Jimmy
      April 01, 2014 - 10:01

      Jeff, by your judgment anyone who thinks the behaviour of the officers and the subsequent stalling and lack of action by the police force is unacceptable must be a 'police hater'. That shows the same narrow thought process that the esteemed officers in the story exercised. I really hope that you're not a cop, we need less like that.