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Ryan Gainer, a Black 15-year-old with autism, was fatally shot by California deputies. Here's what we know.

Bodycam footage of the shooting on March 9 was released on Wednesday.

Ryan Gainer (Burris, Nisenbaum, Curry & Lacy Law)
Ryan Gainer (Burris, Nisenbaum, Curry & Lacy Law)

A Black autistic 15-year-old was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino County, Calif., over the weekend, authorities said.

Ryan Gainer was, according to police, “actively assaulting family members and damaging property” in what loved ones say was a mental health crisis at his home in Apple Valley on March 9.

What happened

Gainer’s parents told him that he was not allowed to play video games until his household chores were done, DeWitt Lacy, a civil rights attorney representing the family, told the Los Angeles Times.

The teen then became upset and started acting out, hitting his sister and breaking glass during a mental health episode. Lacy pointed out that some people with autism experience heightened emotions.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that a member of Gainer’s family called 911 at 4:48 p.m., saying the teen was assaulting family members, banging on doors and breaking windows. A family member told police to “take him in.”

The initial police response

Minutes later, Apple Valley police officers arrived at the house. Authorities said Gainer confronted a deputy while “armed with an approximately 5-foot-long garden tool, with a sharp bladed end.” Police said he “raised the bladed end of the tool” without being provoked and ran toward the deputy, chasing him, “in an attempt to assault him.”

Police said a “lethal force encounter occurred, and Gainer was struck by gunfire.” Authorities added that they “quickly” gave him medical aid until paramedics arrived. Gainer was then taken to the hospital, where he died.

In bodycam footage released by the sheriff’s department on Wednesday, a deputy is seen with a gun raised as Gainer approaches him with the garden tool. The deputy then yells, “Hey, get back — get back or you’re gonna get shot.”

Another deputy who arrived at the scene approaches Gainer with his gun drawn. A local Fox outlet reported that two deputies shot at Gainer three times.

Backlash to law enforcement’s ‘split-second’ decision

The sheriff’s department said they are investigating the shooting. The California Department of Justice is performing an independent investigation.

Lacy — who did not immediately respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment — said that in the past, when Gainer’s family called police for help, the sheriff’s department “sent out mental health experts and were helpful to the family.”

“The sheriff's department followed their training, which is, they deescalated incidents where they had made encounters or contact with Ryan,” Lacy told the Fox affiliate.

Lacy said police should have done the same thing that afternoon, knowing Gainer had autism. Instead, the attorney told NBC News, after deputies shot him “they totally disregarded him.” He added that law enforcement should be able to deal with people having manic episodes without using deadly force.

The sheriff’s department has defended its deputies’ actions. It said that they followed through with their training protocols and made a tragic decision in a “reactionary time,” whether responding officers were aware or not that Gainer had autism.

“Our social safety net for those experiencing mental illness needs to be strengthened. Our deputies handle seemingly insurmountable calls daily,” San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said in a statement obtained by Yahoo News. “Most of these calls do not end in violence.”

“However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split-second decisions,” he added. “While these decisions are lawful, they are awful in terms of our humanity. I feel for both Ryan’s family and my deputies, who will struggle with this for their entire lives.”

Policing and autism

According to a 2016 study published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, about 1 in 5 people with autism under the age of 21 have had encounters with law enforcement. Black people have nearly three times more fatal police encounters than white people.

Protesters mark the second anniversary of Osaze Osagie's death.
Protesters mark the second anniversary of Osaze Osagie's death on March 19, 2021. (Paul Weaver/Getty Images)

In 2019, Osaze Osagie, 29, was fatally shot by State College police in Pennsylvania. His father had feared his autistic son was having a mental health episode and called police to take him to a hospital for treatment. When police arrived, Osagie was holding a knife, and after trying to subdue him, an officer shot and killed him.

In 2017, Ricardo Hayes, an unarmed Black autistic 18-year-old, was shot by a Chicago police sergeant, who said he thought Hayes was armed. The sergeant reportedly told a dispatcher that Hayes was about to pull out a gun while walking up to the police car, and he “had to shoot.” A lawsuit filed by Hayes’s family said he was “standing almost perfectly still, facing [the officer’s] truck, with his hands at his sides” when he was shot. Hayes survived the shooting.

“The autistic community has seen far too many cases of law enforcement profiling, targeting, and using excessive, sometimes deadly force on Black autistic people,” Zoe Gross, of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told the Los Angeles Times. “Because of the prevalence of police violence and the amount of unmet need in our communities, we must fund and implement alternatives to policing.”