Two officers mishandled interaction with autistic teenager
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief of Police Bill Janes met briefly with the media Tuesday to respond to the decision by an adjudicator that two RNC officers breached several of the organization’s regulations when they arrested and detained a teenager with autism in 2009.
“The RNC on a daily and weekly basis have thousands of interactions with members of the public and the vast majority of the times these things go very well.
RNC Police Chief Bill Janes addresses the media at RNC headquarters Tuesday.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/TheTelegram
Unfortunately, for Dane Spurrell they did not go as they should have,” Janes said.
In April of 2009, Const. Lisa Harris came into contact with then 18-year-old Dane Spurrell in Mount Pearl. The young man, who has autism, was accused of obstructing police officers when they mistakenly thought he was publicly intoxicated while walking home from a video store shortly after midnight. Dane was brought to the lockup for the night and wasn’t allowed to make a phone call home, although he made several requests to do so.
A second officer, Const. Rodney Priddle, was also found to have breached RNC regulations.
A complaint was made to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission by Dane’s mother, Diane Spurrell. The findings of a criminal investigation into the matter were sent to a special prosecutions branch at the Department of Justice. It was determined that no criminal charges against the officers were necessary. The complaints commission investigation found that the officers had made mistakes, but no sanctions against the officers were required. Diane Spurrell took exception to that and appealed the decision. That was sent to adjudicator John McGrath.
Janes said that the discipline for the officers has not been determined yet, but will be done so by the adjudicator. He also said he had contacted the Spurrell family Tuesday morning.
“I again spoke this morning to Dane Spurrell and his mother and offered the apologies of the RNC for the missteps and mistakes of the officers in terms of how they addressed the issue,” Janes said. “I’m hoping this will bring some closure for the Spurrell family.”
On Monday, Diane Spurrell spoke to The Telegram about possible sanctions fot the officers.
“I think one officer suffered immensely,” she 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.”
The officers have been found not guilty of using unnecessary force during the incident. Janes said since the 2009 incident, RNC officers have been given further training in identifying conditions such as autism and how to interact with people who have them.