BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The family of a man with autism who was tasered by Glynn County police officers last week is calling for all officers to receive training on how to deal with people who have special needs.
Around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, police said they got a call about a suspicious man with a weapon. According to a spokesperson with the Glynn County Police Department, the responding officers didn’t know the man, Rajon Cherry, had autism when they got there.
Body camera footage shows Cherry being tasered at least six times over the course of about 10 minutes as officers scream for him to get on the ground and stop resisting.
Cherry’s family told News4Jax they believe the situation was avoidable.
His mom said didn’t understand their commands -- and she’s now calling for officers to be trained to interact with those on the autism spectrum.
“I’m driving over there, and all I could think is, and I’m asking God, ‘Please don’t let my son die like this,’” Cherry’s mother, Sherril Johnson, said.
She describes her son as a gentle giant.
“I have never gotten any bad report from anyone about Rajon being aggressive or trying to fight them or throw anything,” she said.
When an officer responded, police video shows Cherry walked toward him while holding a metal object. His mother said he was holding a spoon.
“He had his favorite spoon,” she said. “That was his spoon.”
Experts say some with autism might be attached to unusual objects.
Johnson said Cherry’s autism accounts for the behavior that alerted police to the scene that night.
Police say a caller reported he was “flipping out.” Johnson said his movements are a coping mechanism.
“Just look at the movie Rain Man. They stim and they rock. It helps with their sensory (perception),” Johnson said.
She said he didn’t understand officers’ commands to get on the ground.
Cherry’s sister and other bystanders tried to tell officers about his condition on the scene.
“You ain’t helping!” an officer is heard saying.
“He’s autistic! What are y’all doing?” the bystander said.
“You ain’t helping!” the officer responded.
Cherry’s sister said he slipped down the road that night as they were getting ready to go to dinner when police confronted him.
“As far as people’s comments saying that I should have done this or I should have done that, all I can say to them is: if you ever walked in my shoes, then you come back and reply to me,” Johnson said.
She said officers were too quick to react that night and that they need to be trained on how to recognize and respond to those who may have special needs.
“Look over my color. Look over my disability. Look over all of that… Let’s learn how to treat each other as human beings,” Johnson said. “Just the humanity of it was awful. You didn’t even treat my son as a human being.”
A spokesperson with the Glynn County Police Department did not respond to News4Jax’s request for comment.
Johnson said a medical exam didn’t show any issues with her son’s heart or blood pressure after being tasered, but they don’t know the long-term effects. She said he’s now scared to be alone.