This horrific story exemplifies the need for constant training and re-training of first responders when dealing with people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. This story exploded during our Leadership Conference last week and, quite frankly, I dropped the ball in getting this important story out. Please be advised that The Arc is following this situation.


Teen with autism shot to death by police 

February 2, 2012


Calumet City police had been called to subdue Stephon Watts 10 times in less than two years, using Tasers at least once on the 15-year-old withAsperger’s syndrome.

On Wednesday, officers were called again to the teen’s home, where two officers found Watts in his basement wielding a kitchen knife. Watts “lashed out” with the knife and struck one of the officers in the forearm, said police Chief Edward Gilmore.

“At that time, cornered and having no way to retreat back up the stairs, the officers fired one shot each, striking the (boy) twice,” Gilmore said. “Unfortunately, the officer thought that his life was in jeopardy.”

Watts later was pronounced dead at Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond.

Relatives of the autistic teenager, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 9, questioned why police fired shots at Watts, especially because the department had dealt with him before.

“They didn’t have to murder him,” said the teen’s mother, Danelene Powell-Watts. “This is nothing but murder.”

Watts’ father, Steven, witnessed the shooting and said his son was holding a butter knife when confronted by police.

“They’re trained to disarm people,” Steven Watts said. “Why did they have to use deadly force on a 15-year-old autistic kid?”

Steven Watts said his son was shot once in the leg, and when he moved, he was shot again in the head.

Gilmore said, “I’m not being told he was shot in the head” but said he needed to wait for the coroner’s report. The Lake County, Ind., coroner late Wednesday did not indicate where the teen was shot.

On Wednesday morning, Stephon Watts declared he didn’t want to go to school, and his father responded by taking away the teen’s computer and putting it in the basement of their home in the 500 block of Forsythe Avenue.

Upset, the teen “tussled” with his father, who called police about 8:30 a.m. Steven Watts said he was following instructions given to the family by social workers and doctors who warned that when agitated, the teen should be handled by authorities. The family had followed that advice and called police at least 10 times since June 2010.

“This is an address that’s flagged in our system as having an autistic young man there who is very strong and likes to fight with the police,” Gilmore said.

Five officers responded, and two went to the basement, Gilmore said. The lead officer, whose cut arm was treated at the scene, had responded to the home before, Gilmore said.

Watts, who police said was 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, has wielded knives on other occasions, including one instance where he barricaded himself in a bathroom, authorities said. Police had to call out a negotiator then, Gilmore said.

Most recently, on Dec. 10, Watts’ birthday, police were called after the boy punched his mother in the face, Gilmore and Watts’ family said. Watts fled his home with a knife, and officers gave chase, eventually subduing him with two strikes from a Taser.

Both officers involved in Wednesday’s shooting are on paid administrative leave until the completion of an investigation by Illinois State Police.

All 84 Calumet City police officers last year attended a class about dealing with people with autism disorders, authorities said.



Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)
815-464-1832 (CELL)