Paul Gordo, 18, appeared in court on Wednesday to face a felony assault charge stemming from an incident in which he injured a woman in Monterey, California. Gordo’s family confirmed on Facebook the offense was reduced to one misdemeanor charge for great bodily harm, and Gordo, who has autism, was put on probation, but neither they nor disability advocates across the country are pleased with the outcome.
“The court still ignores that this was prosecution of a disability,” Paul’s father, Steve Gordo, wrote on the family’s Facebook page, Autism is Not a Crime. “If this is success, why do I feel sick to my stomach?”
Paul Gordo was at a public library in July 2015 with a teacher, and after the busy setting triggered a meltdown, he ran out the door and injured a 58-year-old with Huntington’s disease. Jeannine Pacioni, deputy district attorney for Monterey County, told the Modesto Bee the injuries to the woman, who reportedly suffered a concussion, worsened her complications of the disease.
Gordo’s family was ordered to pay restitution for the woman’s medical expenses, and per the request of his family, Gordo will be receiving behavioral therapy at an out-of-state facility in Kansas. The court was presented with a letter from a forensic psychologist stating Gordo’s actions were the result of a neurological disorder and not driven by criminal intent, and Gordo’s family believes this helped lessen the blow.
“We are still angry with the system,” Steve Gordo, told the Modesto Bee. “One thing we are not happy about is that Paul was exhibiting the behavior of his disability and really was not under control at that time. We are glad we don’t have to sell our house to pay for a criminal trial.”
“It is ridiculous, but I am not surprised this happened,” added Shirley Nutt of Ripon, former director of Special Needs Advocates for Understanding. “I think it will happen more and more. If you are going to charge an adult with autism for manifestations of their behavior, then I guess you will charge a blind person with jaywalking if they step outside of a crosswalk.”
“His case and countless others across the country highlight the need for professionals within in the criminal justice system to be properly trained on supporting individuals with various diagnoses and recognizing various disabilities, including autism,” Leigh Ann Davis, Program Manager for The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, told The Mighty.
The Arc has been involved with the Gordo family throughout this process. “The fact of the matter is that people with intellectual and disabilities are not getting the proper support they need within the criminal justice system,” Davis added. “To manifest change, we need those on the inside to educate others in their field about what to look for to spot a disability, and how to find the appropriate supports and services for these individuals.”
The family set up an online petition protesting the criminalization of Paul Gordo’s actions, and to date, it has received more than 13,000 signatures of support. Jill Escher, president of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote a letter to the judge urging her to drop the criminal prosecution. Escher previously told The Mighty major changes need to be made within our legal system.
“One thing’s for sure, our criminal justice system, which is predicated on the idea of punishing those who willingly choose to transgress the law, is no place to address impulsive acts of developmentally disabled adults,” Escher wrote in an email.