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SALT LAKE CITY — An officer responding to a report of a suspicious Hispanic or Asian man at a Duchesne County convenience store said he came across a teen at a nearby library who ran away from him.
So the sheriff's sergeant forced the autistic boy to the ground, handcuffed him and drove the 13-year-old back to his mom's house, police bodycam footage released Tuesday shows.
Now, the boy's mother is suing the county, arguing the officer used excessive force on the boy who was wearing toy spy goggles and carrying his gerbil at midday on April 14.
"We're not trying to say this officer's the worst officer in the world," said Rose Vallejo's attorney, Tyler Ayres.
Rather, the main goal of the suit is to force training for officers on the developmental disorder that affects 1 in 58 Utah children, according to data released last year by the the Utah Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Project.
But the incident already spurred the office to schedule mandatory training for its officers on Wednesday, Sheriff Dave Boren said in a prepared statement released Tuesday.
The session was on the department's calendar before the civil suit was filed in federal court on July 12, and after an internal department investigation sometime earlier. Boren didn't specify what the training involves or whether it is ongoing.
The suit is filed on behalf of the boy identified in court documents by his initials, A.V. It names Duchesne County, Boren and the officer, Sgt. Carl Reilley.
Bodycam footage released
Boren's department has not yet responded in court but on Facebook Tuesday released bodycam footage showing the boy complying with Reilley's request to put his hands up; then Reilley throwing the boy to the ground as the teen cried out; and the officer later encouraging him not to run from officers.
The initial interaction between the two wasn't captured on video. The department said the officer mistakenly turned off his camera when he meant to turn it on.
An internal "full and fair review" by the office's After Action Review Panel determined Reilley's actions were reasonable, Boren said, and that he acted appropriately, except for the bodycam oversight. The panel recommended Reilley receive a verbal warning.
Aside from excessive force that Vallejo says distressed and bruised the boy, the suit alleges racial profiling and unreasonable search and seizure — and that the officer should have known the boy had a disability.
The suit seeks attorney's fees and unspecified amounts in damages.
It says that after a Utah Highway Patrol trooper arrived at the Duchesne Library to help, he noticed the boy was scared, shaken and disabled. He suggested to Boren that a trip to the zoo with officers could help him trust police again, but Boren replied, "If the boy can't be trusted on his own, we'll make sure he is not allowed to be out in public," according to court documents.