Some important changes are being made to the Mesa Police Department to prevent tragedies like Kayden’s from happening again. They are bringing on a “full-time crisis-response team and a ‘mental health advisory board.'” This will help them to work more effectively with those who have special needs or mental illnesses. The department also hopes to bring on board more crisis intervention officers so that their ratios will exceed the national average—which is 20 to 25 percent. Officers are also going through extra mental health training courses.
We at the Autism Site applaud these measures being taken, and we hope that it will make a difference for many—not only for those with autism, but also for those who are differently abled or mentally ill.
Note: We have updated the article to reflect the female-to-male transition that Kayden was going through. We want to respect his wish to be identified as a man.
Twenty-four-year-old Kayden Clarke was a man with Asperger’s who was fighting to undergo transition, as he was born as Danielle. He achieved internet fame this past summer after posting a video of his faithful service dog, Sampson, stopping him from meltdown-induced, self-injurious behavior. On Thursday, February 4, he was shot dead by police. The situation was tragically ironic: police were checking on him after receiving multiple suicide calls, but they were the ones who ended up taking his life.
According to the officers involved in the incident, he had a knife in hand and threatened to harm himself. Then he approached them and extended the knife at them, and they shot him out of self-defense—even though they had stun guns. He was taken to the hospital and passed away that evening. The police officers are now on administrative leave.
Those who knew Kayden wondered if the force used was truly necessary. His mother had this to say: “Before the police arrived [he] wasn’t posing a threat to the community at all. And the police came into [his] own place. They shot and killed a 24-year-old autistic, mentally ill individual whom they had been familiar with and aware of [his] special needs.”
This horrible tragedy just highlights the incredible need for autism training among the police. Officers do not always know how to respond to or how to treat someone on the spectrum, and the consequences of that can prove fatal, as we saw in this situation.
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.