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Alberta police watchdog investigating arrest of 16-year-old boy with autism

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Alberta police watchdog investigating arrest of 16-year-old boy with autism
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's police watchdog is investigating the arrest of a teen with autism earlier this week. It comes just days after RCMP said the matter would be reviewed internally. As Nicole Stillger reports, the family is looking at potential legal action – Oct 9, 2022

The Alberta Serious Incident Report Team (ASIRT) has been called to investigate the arrest of a 16-year-old boy with autism on Oct. 2 in St. Albert.

The boy was playing on the Lacombe Playground near his grandparent’s house — an area he was familiar with, according to his family — when he was first reported to police as being a suspicious person.

The first call came in around 4:30 p.m. but police were not able to locate the boy when they arrived at the park. A second call of the same nature — “male suspect who was observed to be acting in an erratic behaviour,” according to RCMP — came in about an hour later.

In a statement to Global News, RCMP said the information they received led them to believe the boy was “impaired by drugs.”

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St. Albert RCMP were able to locate the boy on the second attempt, however, they were not able to identify him, as he is non-verbal, his mother, Laura Hawthorne later wrote in a statement on a GoFundMe page.

Police were not aware at the time of the boy’s autistic designation.

Police arrested the boy and held him in the cells at the detachment where he began to self-harm, police said in a news release on Friday. He was taken to a hospital following a review by EMS staff just before 7 p.m.

The family filed a missing person report around 7:30 p.m. Police were then able to identify the boy and connect him with his family.

The GoFundMe was started Thursday to help support the Hawthorne family with legal fees.

Read more: B.C. parents file lawsuit alleging ‘gross negligence’ in care of their autistic son

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“Given the gravity of the incident, Haggerty Law views the activation of ASIRT as a potentially positive development. We look forward to reviewing ASIRT’s report and hope it will serve some justice,” said the family’s lawyer, Patrick B. Haggerty.

“Things like this have been happening to people with autism and mental health issues for quite some time,” said Melinda Noyes, executive director of Autism Edmonton.

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“It’s sometimes really hard to identify what’s going on.

“I think the best way to do that is to be educated in what autism is,” Noyes told Global News on Oct. 6. “What the police are working with is the information they have when that call comes in and they have to make decisions fairly quickly, and that’s tough,” she said.

At the end of the day, Noyes said businesses and officials needs to be educated on what autism can look like since it is such a broad spectrum and presents itself very differently in each individual.

The boy has since been released from the hospital and is not facing any criminal charges.

The review by ASIRT will look into the police handling of the incident.

— With files from Sarah Ryan.

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