By BRIAN BOHNERT
Three days after Fostoria police unleashed a tase on an autistic teen, the city has responded to requests for comment.
According to a news release from Fostoria Safety Service Director Allyson Murray, officers responded to a 9-1-1 call in the 600-block of Maple Street at 3:17 p.m. Saturday when a female reported a man in her back yard with a gun.
Upon arrival, Murray said, officers encountered a male approximately 6 feet in height and weighing about 130 pounds holding a rifle. According to the release, the subject immediately pointed the rifle at one of the officers “while laughing/screaming.”
Several orders were given for the male, 16-year-old Jeremiah Ditch, to drop the weapon as officers “unholstered their duty sidearms.”
After Ditch had apparently appeared to “cock” the rifle, one of the officers noticed an orange tip. Realizing the rifle was a toy, officers holstered their weapons, the release states.
Ditch then fled on foot and the officers gave chase, ordering Ditch to stop.
When Ditch failed to comply, officers unholstered their Tasers and discharged the device at him. The device, however, had no effect because it did not penetrate Ditch’s red and yellow coat, Murray said in the press release.
The teen’s family disputes this claim, and sent a photograph to the Review Times newsroom showing what they allege are marks on the back of his neck from the electronic control weapon.
“He’s been in a lot of pain since it happened,” said his grandmother, Pamela Smith of Perrysburg. “His right leg was giving out on him sometimes. He might be fine now, but Sunday he kept saying, ‘grandma, my leg is hurting.'”
Following the incident, Murray said Fostoria EMS was dispatched and determined the teen suffered no injuries.
The press release states officers apprehended Ditch after he tripped. Police then confirmed the gun was, in fact, a toy.
“It was only then that the subject’s relatives exited their residence and informed officers the male was autistic,” Murray said.
After being alerted to the commotion by her other grandson, Cody, Smith said she ran out the front door of the residence and attempted to inform officers of the teen’s condition. Ditch has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.
“They told me to shut up and get back inside the house,” she said. ” … When I saw them walk him to the police car, I went back out and I was telling them he was autistic and that they didn’t need to be that forceful on him.”
Officers did not arrest Ditch; however, the toy gun was confiscated.
Smith described the BB gun as being about 1-foot-long, camouflaged and having an orange tip on the end to indicate it was a toy.
The city press release also states the male’s guardian was “very understanding and polite” and thanked the officers for using non-lethal force.
Smith attributed that courtesy to her husband, Larry Smith, and said she would like to see area police receive better training on how to handle similar situations.
“I would kind of appreciate it if (Fostoria Police Department) would make sure that all their officers were trained in handicapped and disabled children and people,” she said.
While no charges have been filed against either party, Smith said she and her husband are facing the possibility of losing custody of their grandson.
Ditch lives in Toledo at a care facility, but often comes to Fostoria for the weekend as the family is trying to get him to be able to live at home. Smith said the facility is threatening to take away her custody because she “did not have her eyes on him.”
“I’ve had him since he was four years old and I’m not going to lose him over something stupid the police did,” she said.
After providing the Review Times with the news release, Murray declined to provide any further comment on the matter.
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