Police in Mesa, Arizona, are taking steps to better protect people with cognitive disabilities and/or mental illness in the wake of the death of a man with autism.

On Friday, Feb. 12, Police Chief John Meza announced the creation of a full-time crisis-response team and a “mental health advisory board” which will assist the police department in developing, recommending and reviewing polices and training techniques, AZ Central reported.

The crisis-response team will include four full-time detectives who will help patrol officers in challenging situations. Mesa police received 2,600 suicidal-person calls in 2015, demonstrating the need for a special unit, Meza says in the video below.

The announcement comes just a week after the death of Kayden Clarke, a transgender man with autism who was shot dead by Mesa police officers. Officers were sent to Clarke’s house on a suicidal-person call Feb. 4 and opened fire after Clarke, armed with a knife, charged them.

Clarke, 24, formerly named Danielle Jacobs, was known for a video he shared last year of himself being comforted by his dog during a meltdown. Millions viewed the clip, and it helped spread awareness about the role of an autism service dog. The video has since been made private.

“This tragedy highlights the increased need for first responder training to teach first responders to effectively interact with autistic and special needs individuals,” Dr. Julian Maha, founder and CEO of the autism nonprofit Kulture City, told The Mighty after the news of Clark’s death broke last week.. “The training will give them much needed tools to effectively communicate with autistic individuals, help keep both parties safe and hopefully prevent tragedies like these.”

The officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, which is standard for officer-involved shooting situations, reported ABC 15 Arizona. No officers involved were injured.

In addition to these changes, Meza also plans to increase the percentage of crisis intervention officers on patrol above the national average (20-25 percent of the officers on patrol) by the end of the year, AZ Central reported. The department has added eight hours of basic crisis training for new recruits, mental health refresher courses for current officers, and increased the number of first responders with training.

See Police Chief Meza’s statement in the video below: 

Related: Maryland Responds to Death of Man With Down Syndrome With Law Enforcement Plan


One of the first role models I had in my life was Magic Johnson. As early as 3, I can remember watching him play with the Lakers and being completely transfixed by his play-making ability. People like Magic fascinated me and developed my interest in basketball.

Today, I can say basketball has helped me progress as a person on the autism spectrum.

young boy
Kerry as a teen.

As a kid I had significant challenges with social interaction, communication and gross motor skill delays. My parents, who I’ve always praised for helping create the wheel for me when services for autism were less known, decided to take my love of watching basketball and try to turn it into a love for playing as well.

When I was 8 playing pee wee basketball, I found out right away that basketball — and any sport — would be an uphill battle. Both my hand-eye coordination and my issues with balance kept me limited in my abilities to perform on the court. What kept me motivated though was envisioning myself doing the moves of other basketball players I looked up to.

I’d run to the three-point line while I was practicing some days, and as soon as I got the shot I would scream “MAGIC!” at the top of my lungs. Sure, 99 percent of those shots didn’t go in, but I found out rather quickly that I loved playing the game.

In grammar school, my opportunities to play were limited because my school didn’t have a basketball team. Once I got into a high school for students with learning disabilities, I found out that we had both a junior varsity and varsity team! I was ready.

I was going to be the Magic Johnson of our JV team, I thought to myself. Then tryouts came. I was a 5’10”, 230-pound kid wanting to play point guard while the rest of the kids were around 5’4″-5’6″. Within the first two sprints of the practice, I was already on the sideline out of breathe. Not exactly the MVP performance I was envisioning right off the bat. Three days later, I would find out I didn’t make the team, and my goal of playing high school ball was defeated.

That defeat, though, made me think back to Magic Johnson and everything he has been able to overcome in his life. I told myself in the mirror the following day that I was going to come back and make it.

Fast forward one summer, and JV tryouts were happening once again. This time I was 60 pounds lighter and had grown three inches. I had participated in basketball camps almost every day that summer while working on my gross motor skills at my occupational therapist’s office. I was beyond nervous. Would this be different than last time?

Luckily for me, thanks to my progress, making several basketballs during the tryout and pushing my body to the limit, I got a coveted spot on the JV team! I made it. Two years later as a senior after continuing to work on my craft, I was selected as varsity captain and had made some of my first friends ever.

Looking back, this passion for sports is what I advocate for when I talk to families now. I feel there are so many benefits to sports. I was able to become very good with my hands because of basketball and overcome many of my motor challenges. I was also able to find my niche when it comes to social interaction. The advice I’d give to other families out there is to give sports a try with their loved ones. The results I’ve seen are amazing. Even if it’s not sports, find that niche they love and help them pursue it everyday.

As for my future with sports, I am now a huge college basketball and NBA fan. I love watching my alma mater the Seton Hall Pirates play, and also my Los Angeles Lakers. I’m also a huge fan of Coaches Powering Forward for Autismwhich is an initiative to bring autism awareness to college basketball. Now in its third year, I’ve been so happy to see two of my favorite passions — autism awareness and basketball — come together to make a difference for our community.

A version of this post for appeared on KerryMagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Hello everyone, I’m back with a new video for you. Today, I want to talk about how my autism gave me an advantage in my life. What’s one time autism has been an advantage in your life? Share in the comments below!

If you have any ideas for videos you’d like to see, please contact me at [email protected].

I have autism. My brain is wired differently than the neurotypical brain, but I live in a world created by neurotypicals. I need support to deal with the sensory issues that arise in non-controlled environments. I work from home to circumvent both social and sensory differences.

But I can also solve problems better than the hundreds of people I work with because of my wiring. I’m the one they come to for help. I can see the forest as well as the trees. I can make connections where others cannot. I can understand complex processes in minutes whereas it takes others weeks or months.

Autism versus neurotypical. Blue eyes versus brown eyes. Either give us support to live in the neurotypical world and reap the benefits of our differences, or focus on making us conform and get nothing since all our energy will be focused on being like you instead of being ourselves. Your choice: support differences or conformity. We only have so much energy to spend each day, so you have to pick one.

Before you decide, what makes you happier? Being yourself, or being what others want you to be? I think the world would be a much better place if everyone, autism spectrum and neurotypical, could just be themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with autism, but people’s perception that everyone should be shoehorned into the same societal role has to change before the world can realize that.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

The U.K. is making an effort to protect autistic people from hate crimes.

The Bedfordshire Police teamed up with a disability advocacy group called Pohwer to release “hate crime cards” to 1) make it easier for people with autism to report hate crimes and 2) serve to recognize the social and communication difficulties associated with autism and the importance of improving communication between the autism community and police officers, according to a press release.

Autistic people designed the cards, which began rolling out across the U.K. on Friday as part of Bedfordshire’s Hate Crime Week of Action.


People with disabilities are victimized at much higher rates than the rest of the population, according to Victimsofcrime.org. A hate crime, however, is defined as a crime where the motivation is the offender’s bias against victims of a particular group.

 Between 2004 and 2012, victims in the U.S. identified disability as the perceived offender motivation in hate crimes 11 percent of the time, down from 22 percent in 2011.

In the U.K., a person with autism can now show the “hate crime card” to the demonstrate he or she needs help either reporting a crime or communicating. It’s the size of a credit card and contains contact information for the police department.

“We continue to seek ways to deliver services to our communities with diverse needs. It is important that vulnerable people in our county know about hate crime and that being targeted is wrong,” Bedforshire Chief Inspector Gayner Coulson said in the press release. “Hate crime remains underreported and we are working hard with partners to tackle prejudice and crime against someone with a disability in our county.”

A mother is outraged after her 7-year-old son was handcuffed and detained at his elementary school.

Sande Bard-Butler says her son, Allen, who has autism and a traumatic brain injury, was handcuffed by a school resource officer at Calusa Elementary School in Boca Raton, Florida, who then tried to to involuntarily commit him at a mental health hospital, 10News WTSP reported.

Allen, who can be aggressive when triggered, according to his mother, had a meltdown where he lashed out at his special needs teacher, raising a pencil as if to stab her. That’s when the resource officer handcuffed him and tried to commit him to North Bay Recovery Center in Lutz, Florida, but a doctor there refused to admit him.

“Allen can get triggered and upset and be very aggressive, but if you handle it in the right way, it can be de-escalated very quickly,” Butler told 10News WTSP. “They put him on his stomach on the floor and put handcuffs behind his back.  I’m frustrated, and angry, very angry.”

Bard-Butler posted photos on Facebook of her son’s wrists after he had the handcuffs taken off.

I am so disgusted with the school system here. Allen says a child stepped on his lunch today so the teacher threw it…

Posted by Sande Bard-Butler on Thursday, January 28, 2016


The Pasco Sheriff’s Office told the outlet that under state law, deputies can be handcuff or zip tie anyone, no matter their age. Butler has hired attorney Nicolette Nicoletti to deal with the district and sheriff’s office. She plans to sue.

Nicoletti says that the case is currently being investigated at the school board and sherriff’s office.

“The allegations being set forth are extremely serious and we are doing everything we can to make sure no child suffers the way that Allen has again,” Nicoletti told The Mighty.

Get more on the story from the video below:

The Mighty reached out to both the school district and the sheriff’s office for comment but have yet to hear back. 

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