Lourdes Ponce and her 16-year-old son reportedly went to the fast-food restaurant El Pollo Loco in Fresno, California after they left a doctor’s appointment on Thursday evening. Ponce says her son experiences epileptic seizures, which is why they’d gone to the doctor. As Ponce tells ABC30 KFSN, those seizures returned when her son went to the bathroom in the restaurant. After realizing what was happening, she says she asked her daughter to call 911 for medical help, but when police arrived, she says things went from bad to worse. Why? Ponce says the Fresno Police responded by putting her son in handcuffs.
Ponce, who says her son is autistic, describes the frightening moment she realized he was seizing again. "I stood outside the door, I heard him hit the floor, I tried to open the door but it was locked, that's when I asked for help," Ponce told the local outlet. "We called paramedics for help, we did not call police. He was not hurting anybody; he was having a seizure."
"[Police] saw that my son was throwing up and instead of helping him so that he wouldn't choke on his vomit, they had him on the ground in handcuffs," Ponce alleged to KFSN. KFSN reports that in a video it says the station obtained, officers are seemingly trying to get Ponce’s son in the backseat of a police car.
"He has autism, he has epilepsy, stop it!" the station reports that Ponce is heard screaming in the background of the video.
According to Ponce, once she showed the police paperwork that verified her son’s history of epilepsy, officers released him and he was taken to the hospital. He’s expected to recover.
Fresno Police issued the following statement, as reported by ABC News: "This case is currently under Administrative Review. The review will include the examination of all the information pertaining to the officer's contact including Body Worn Cameras." According to Ponce, police came to the hospital on Friday and brought a “certificate of release” form. This paperwork basically says the teenager won’t be arrested.
This is far from the first time police have handcuffed—or worse—people who are actually experiencing medical problems. A 7-year-old student with autism was taken from school in handcuffs in Texas. A man in Indiana actually sued the police after he was arrested, claiming the police used excessive force when arresting him after his seizure. A similar federal lawsuit is moving forward in Colorado.
Some states, like Texas, are experimenting with laws like the Samuel Allen Law, which allows people to elect to identify their potential ‘communication impairment’ on their state IDs, with the hope being that officers will then adjust their behavior; for example, if someone has autism, or is deaf, they could note that on identification that police would ideally see early enough in the interaction.
Some police departments, too, have started appointing officers with specialized training to work with people with autism and their families. For example, as Daily Kos covered, a Minnesota cop known as an “autism cop,” has been training his peers with what he’s learned as best practices for safer police interactions. Specialized and inclusive-trainings like these make everyone safer, but especially the intersection of people with disabilities and those who are already routinely victimized by police, like people of color, homeless people, and people who live with addictions.