I-TEAM: 8 months later, mother pushes for answers after non-verbal man was tasered by Georgia officers

A Brunswick mother says she’s continuing her push for answers after her son, who has autism and is nonverbal, was tasered multiple times and tackled by Glynn County police.

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. – A Brunswick mother says she’s continuing her push for answers after her son, who has autism and is non-verbal, was tasered multiple times and tackled by Glynn County police.

It happened in Sept. 4, 2021. At the time, police said their administrative review into whether officers acted properly was complete, but they couldn’t release it until an investigation into a complaint made by the man’s mother had wrapped up.

Now, eight months later, the Glynn County Police Department says it’s waiting to hear from the stun gun manufacturer, Axon, on whether the devices were functioning correctly before they can close their administrative review. The Glynn County Police Department has not responded to the I-TEAM’s inquiries about the complaint made by the man’s mother.

PREVIOUS STORY: Video shows Georgia officers tasing nonverbal man with autism 6 times while responding to call

The body camera video starts with officers arriving near a road where Rajon Cherry is walking without a shirt or shoes and carrying some kind of metal object. Cherry begins walking in the officer’s direction as the officer yells “Drop it!” When he failed to comply with officers command, they tasered him.

Johnson’s mother said he didn’t understand the commands because he has autism — something that police soon learned from bystanders.

Despite cries from his sister and acknowledgement by officers, police continued to taser him and follow him, tackling him to the ground, putting him in two sets of handcuffs and deploying a taser again. Bystanders are heard yelling about his condition at least 14 times, and at least six times, officers respond that they understand.

Eight months later, Sherril Johnson, Cherry’s mother, says her son is traumatized and afraid to leave home without a caregiver literally holding his hand.

“He’ll sit on the couch. He’ll just look so sad...and one day he just cried. All day, like, tears. Crying. I’m like, Rajon, to try to comfort him, hug him, rub his shoulders, but him not being able to verbalize to me that he’s really still hurting from that,” Johnson said. “It almost, like, takes my breath away because he can’t tell me, ‘Mama, I’m still hurt. I’m still confused about why I was treated like that when all I was doing was walking.’”

At the time, the Glynn County Police Chief commended his officers for using less than lethal force.

At first, a responding officer believed Cherry was holding a weapon, but the object fell out of his hand after the first time a stun gun was deployed.

They later discovered it was a spoon.

“He was not fighting. He was not resisting. All my son did was scream, ‘Mama,’” Johnson said. “That’s all he did after y’all went to tasing him and choking him and roughing him up. All he wanted to do was go home and you would not allow him.”

The I-TEAM has reached out to the Police Department for update on the internal investigation into the incident in October, February, and March — but we never received answers until last week, when Glynn County police responded to a request under Georgia’s Open Records Act, asking for records of investigative materials related to the incident. The response was the Glynn County police department doesn’t have any records like that.

“I’m not surprised,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she’s still pushing for answers.

“All it takes is a little dot and it’ll blow up,” Johnson said. “Just hope. I have hope. And I’m praying that God hears me, which I know he hears me. And the change will start.

According to the Glynn County Police Department’s website, every credible complaint against police is appropriately investigated.

“There is nothing, thus far, in our review that causes us to be alarmed by our response to this incident, however, we can’t prematurely state what our review has concluded until we receive the Axon analysis report,” a spokesperson with the Glynn County Police Department said.

Police say in response to this incident, they have created a registry of people with special needs and mandated officers complete on a course on autism and de-escalation. They also say the department has partnered with Light of Hope Learning Center to provide autism awareness training for officers and staff.

Full response from a Glynn County Police Department spokesperson:

“In response to the Rajon Cherry incident, Glynn County Police Department (GCPD) conducted an administrative review to access whether our response, specifically the deployment of the Taser equipment, was in accordance with our existing policies and procedures as well as standard law enforcement practices. In addition to our review, the GCPD also requested the vendor for the Taser, Axon, to access the equipment to see if there were any functionality issues. Currently, our administrative review is not complete due to awaiting the report from Axon. Although there have been referrals to other law enforcement agencies concerning our response to this matter, to date, there have been no concerns about our response and or review. Since this incident, the GCPD has been intentional about ensuring that our officers receive professional development training on responding to individuals who may be Autistic as well as others we may encounter that could be in crisis. As a direct result of this incident, GCPD enhanced our internal identification systems by the creation of the Special Needs Registry. This voluntary registry allows identifying, medical and other needs of persons we encounter who have Autism, dementia and other needs to be more quickly identified by officers and first responders. All officers were mandated to complete the Georgia Public Safety Training Center course, Autism and De-escalation. We have also partnered with Light of Hope Learning Center to provide autism awareness training for our officers and staff. In the meantime, we will continue to enhance our training and response to these matters.”

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter