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Protesters show support for 13-year-old boy on autism spectrum shot, injured by police

Amanda Funk and Lisa Hamby attend a rally outside the Ogden Municipal Building in Ogden on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. People gathered to protest and call attention to the shooting of Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who was shot by police in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Funk and Lisa Hamby attend a rally outside the Ogden Municipal Building in Ogden on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. People gathered to protest and call attention to the shooting of Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who was shot by police in Salt Lake City.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

OGDEN — When 14-year-old Gabe Smith learned from his parents Saturday that a 13-year-old boy on the autism spectrum was shot and injured by police last week while having a crisis, it hit close to home.

“I felt pain, felt physical pain. I felt like I was having a heart attack. It just hurt, and I ignored it the best I can,” recalled Gabe, who is also on the spectrum.

The news brought back his own memories.

“At my school, when the police officer took me down when I was upset and hitting my head against a window, (he) grabbed my arm and pushed me on the ground and held me for five minutes, I remembered that,” he said.

“And you probably felt like you’d been in those situations before, how scary it must have been for that kid,” added Sadie Smith, Gabe’s mom. “We’ve been in that situation, truly. ... Things spiral out of control, and things can get really scary. Emotions are hard to control, especially when you’ve got some mental illness.”

That’s why the family showed up for a small but emotional rally Saturday in support of Linden Cameron, the 13-year-old who was shot and injured by police.

About 40 people gathered in front of the Ogden Municipal Building to speak against police brutality and call for understanding and compassion for those with mental illness and disabilities. Some of the ralliers were also members of the Black Lives Matter movement in Utah.

During the rally, a few carried signs with slogans such as: “You have no authority to shoot a child,” “Crisis management not cops,” “Justice for Linden Cameron, we stand with you.”

On Sept. 4, after police came into contact with Linden in the area of 500 South and Navajo Street (1335 West), the boy ran from officers. A short time later, shots were fired. Salt Lake Police Sgt. Keith Horrocks told reporters at the scene that night that the boy “had made threats to some folks with a weapon,” but also stated he did not believe any weapon was recovered from the scene.

Linden was hospitalized with injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines and bladder, according to a GoFundMe account set up to help pay for medical expenses. Linden’s mother, Golda Barton, told reporters earlier this week that she decided to call police and ask for a member of the Crisis Intervention Team to respond. She said she explained in detail to dispatchers that her son was upset and was having a mental episode and that she needed him to be taken to the hospital.

Despite having served in the military and understanding the need to make difficult decisions quickly, event organizer Malik Dayo said, “I still can’t bring myself to understand how you can be justified to shoot a 13-year-old boy. Even if he was armed, I just can’t bring myself to understand why that is.”

“The culture definitely needs to change,” Dayo said.

Whitney Lee, director of nonprofit Neurodiverse Utah, said: “Not only is police reform critical ... we need to have a system that focuses on prevention and intervention using mental health and social work, and giving people their needs without judgement, making this world an accessible and inclusive place, and listening to disabled and neurodivergent voices.”

When one’s child is having a crisis, Smith said the situation sometimes “gets away from you” as a parent, and she doesn’t know what to do after exhausting all of her tactics. When it gets to that point, she said she’s thought about calling the police but fear of the situation escalating stops her from doing so.

“Linden’s mom, I imagine her having that same battle. We’ve been there, and I’ve had the back and forth in my head. ... There was that extra push, or it was extreme enough that she needed to call. She did all the right things. She said: ‘My son is mentally ill, he doesn’t have a weapon, I need crisis intervention. He doesn’t know how to control his behaviors.’ I mean, all those things that I would hear myself saying in those situations,” Smith said.

If she could share a message with Barton, Smith said she would tell her: “She didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t make the wrong choice. That wasn’t her fault. ... She made it so clear that he wasn’t a threat but that she needed help.”

Body camera footage from the shooting is expected to be released by the Salt Lake City Police Department by Sept. 21. Police Chief Mike Brown said this week that he can’t answer questions about the shooting until investigations are complete.