SALT LAKE CITY — Golda Barton still doesn't understand why police would shoot her 13-year-old son.
“Like why, why, why, why didn’t you do anything else? Anything else!” she asked.
“It’s like giants against a tiny little kid. I said, ‘Just grab him and tackle him.’ Why didn’t they just tackle him or anything else? Or tase him? Or bean bag hit him? Or just wait ... wait for him to just chill.”
Barton’s son, Linden Cameron, continued to recover Wednesday at Primary Children's Hospital with injuries he received when he was shot by Salt Lake police on Friday.
Meanwhile, numerous questions remain about what led the officer, or officers, to draw their guns on a 13-year-old boy with mental health issues.
According to a GoFundMe account set up to raise money for Linden’s medical bills, he was shot multiple times and suffered “injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines and bladder. The long-term effects of his injuries are still unknown, but it is likely that his recovery will be long and require multiple kinds of treatment.”
Linden was shot Friday night after Salt Lake police were called to the area of 500 South and Navajo Street (1335 West). According to police, officers responded to a report of a juvenile having a “violent psychological issue.” After coming in contact with Linden, 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.
Per city policy, Salt Lake police are required to release body camera video to the public within 10 business days of an officer-involved critical incident. The department said it will not release more details about the shooting until then.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she expects “this investigation to be handled swiftly and transparently for the sake of everyone involved.”
Utah Sen. Luz Escamilla and Reps. Angela Romero and Sandra Hollins issued a joint statement on Wednesday, saying they were “greatly concerned” about the incident.
“When people call the police, we expect professional and compassionate judgment, especially when a child with cognitive disabilities is involved. We feel awful for Linden and his family. Sadly, the use of force in tense situations where a non-lethal, de-escalation approach would be more effective does significant damage to the relationship between law enforcement and the people they serve. Tragic incidents like this not only change the lives of the family involved, but also impact the community who wants to trust the police for security.”
The lawmakers also called for a swift and transparent investigation.
“We want our first responders to be as prepared as possible to address situations involving our most vulnerable populations.”
Barton told the Deseret News that her son has Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism. Linden had been dealing with depression, and most recently separation anxiety, she said.
Friday was the first day Barton had been able to go back to work in a long time. Linden became very upset that day and had been throwing fits, which included curling up in a ball and crying, Barton said. To make matters worse, she said she missed several of her son’s calls while she was at work because her cellphone was charging.
When Linden becomes upset, he screams and sometimes bangs his head on a wall, Barton said. In previous situations, she said her family would call the county’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Team. However, she said after spending thousands of dollars the month before, they couldn’t afford to this time.
After talking to Linden’s psychiatrist, Barton said she decided to call police and ask for a member of the Crisis Intervention Team to respond.
“And I was just like, ‘You know what? We need treatment, we need help, so let’s call these people, they said they would help us.’ So we got this specialized officer, they said they would come help us. I said, ‘Can you please just get my son to Primary’s?’”
Barton said when she drove home, she parked down the street from her house because she didn't want to further agitate her son with her presence. She said she explained in detail to dispatchers that her son was upset and was having a mental episode and that she just needed him to be taken to the hospital.
But Barton said Linden is also afraid of police officers in uniform because his grandfather was shot and killed by police in January. In that incident, three Lyon County, Nevada, sheriff’s deputies shot Owen Barton after he allegedly threatened a neighbor with a gun, according to news reports out of Reno.
When officers arrived and confronted Linden, he ran.
“They scared him, he ran, he jumped the fence,” Barton said.
At that point, Barton said she believes police should have let her son go. Instead, they ran after him.
“Why would you chase him?” she asked. “Let him run it out and calm down.”
Neither Barton nor her 17-year-old son, Wesley, believe Linden had any weapon.
“No, not at all. He was scared. He was running,” she said.
The shooting happened on the sidewalk along Navajo Street. In a separate interview with KUTV, Barton said she was told by a witness that another officer who was with the one who fired his weapon, could be seen grabbing his head in disbelief and saying out loud, “He’s just a child, what are you doing?”
Salt Lake police say all of their patrol officers receive crisis intervention training. But the department only has two or three full-time members of the Crisis Intervention Team, none of whom were working at the time of Friday’s incident.
Wesley Barton, Linden’s brother, believes police need more training about how to deal with people experiencing mental health issues.
“They didn’t do everything, in my opinion, to try and make sure the situation didn’t escalate to where it did. I think better training, I think they definitely need that,” he said.
The group Neurodiverse Utah, an organization that promotes autism acceptance, posted about the incident on its Facebook page.
“Police shot a 13-year-old boy who was experiencing a mental health episode. Police were called because help was needed but instead more harm was done when officers from the SLPD expected a 13-year-old experiencing a mental health episode to act calmer and collected than adult trained officers. When experiencing a mental health crisis your ability to think rationally and respond promptly is impaired.”
In a separate post, they group stated: “Too often we are given the advice to call 911/police when a loved is having a mental health crisis. But with 25% of those killed by police being mentally ill and near 50% being disabled, calling police is too great a risk.” That was followed by a third post with a link to resources “on keeping autistic people safe including police alternatives in handling a meltdown or mental health crisis.”
Wesley Barton said he’s grateful his brother is expected to live. But he said Linden was shot in both feet and currently has no feeling in his left hand, and may never get to do certain activities with his brother again like longboarding.
“This is going to scar him for the rest of his life,” he said. “It’s hard to comprehend that your little 13-year-old brother was shot by police officers who you really felt were there to protect you.
“At the end of the day, he’s 13, and there’s no justifying that.”
But Golda Barton said her son is already putting on a brave face as he recovers at the hospital.
“They didn’t hurt me, I didn’t feel it. I’m Superman,” she emotionally recalled Linden telling her. “It’s just a miracle that he’s alive.”