Police have a huge amount of discretion when responding to calls. They make decision calls that can cost people time, money and even their lives. In some situations they have to determine how much force to use when trying deal with suspects. In one case police officers in Calumet City Illinois chose to use deadly force when dealing with an unruly fifteen year old autistic boy.
Stephon Watts was a young man who suffered from aspergers syndrome (form of autism), he was often getting into trouble at home and the police were often called to his house and well aware of his disability. The morning he was killed he got into a fight with his parents, who call the police as instructed to do by the boy’s doctors. In past encounters with the boy officers used a stun gun when necessary to help control the boy. He was reported to have used knives in the past and his home is flagged as a house that has a violent teen as well as an autistic person residing there. In this call the police report that Stephon had a kitchen knife and cut one of the officers. The two officers who had reported that "they feared for their lives" fired shots striking the boy in the leg and chest. Stephon's family said that he was only holding "butter knife" and that the police didn't have to shoot him. The family reported that the officers shot him in the head and leg but the coroner’s report showed that the boy was shot in the chest rather than the head. Stephon's father also said the officers could have physically restrained him but at 5'10 feet tall, 220 pounds and holding a knife this may have been a great challenge.
According to the use of force continuum from the national institute of justice, force starts with officer presence in which no force is used. The second step is verbalization in which an officer uses verbal commands to control the situation. The third step is empty hand control in which the officer uses his hands to try to hold or strike if necessary to control a suspect. The next step is the use of less lethal weapons. The last step is lethal force which should only be used in a situation that poses a threat to the officer or others. In the case Stephon Watts the use of less lethal weapons was often the case but in this instance the officer felt the need to use deadly force. According to the use of force continuum the officers acted correctly. A person with a knife that has already injured an officer definitely poses a threat especially a 200 pound teenager.
However the officers were aware that this teen had a disability and should have taken that fact into account. They know that this teenager has social problems and has to be dealt with often. I think that the officers could have used less lethal weapons to control Stephon. If less lethal weapons were not available to the officer on the spot they could have easily shot Stephon in an area that would have not resulted in death. They could have then taken him to a hospital to get the necessary attention.
I believe that the officers under any other circumstances used deadly force in a reasonable manner. This instance however taking his condition into account they could have made a better choice. I think that this is one case where the use of force is hard to determine. The situation was dangerous but there could have been many other options rather than killing a young teen with autism.