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Dispatches reveal Vacaville police knew teenager had autism before encounter
Police officers who were investigating an alleged fight between two individuals on Wednesday knew one of the suspects in the incident was a teenager with autism, according to newly-unearthed dispatches reviewed by Solano NewsNet.
The radio transmissions reveal police knew the name, age and mental condition of 17-year-old Preston Wolf minutes before a patrol officer confronted and punched the teenager.
The dispatches, which have not been previously reported, were obtained by Solano NewsNet Thursday evening after a video from a home surveillance system that captured the encounter went viral on social media.
That video shows an unidentified police officer approaching Preston Wolf with a demand that he lay on the ground. A brief confrontation ensues, at which point the officer is seen dealing a single blow to Preston’s head before other officers arrive to assist with his capture.
In a statement released to media outlets on Thursday, a Vacaville Police Department spokesperson said officers who were responding to the incident were just doing their jobs based on the limited information that was available to them at the time — that two individuals were fighting, and that one had possibly been stabbed. (No stabbing victim was ever located.)
“Following the arrest, the family explained their son as a special needs individual,” Ian Schmutzler, the acting chief of the police department, said in a statement. “This was not known to our officer — his responsibility was to find and apprehend the suspect to prevent further injury.”
But the dispatches cast serious doubt over that statement because they prove at least one officer knew that Preston Wolf was a minor with special needs, information that was widely broadcast to other officers who were investigating the incident.
“First name is Preston,” an officer relayed on Vacaville’s public safety radio system. “I don’t know his last name. He’s 17 years old.”
“Is he on foot, or a bike?” a second officer questions, before a third asks, “Do we need a perimeter set up?”
Moments later, a Vacaville police officer says he’s located Preston in front of a home along Somerville Drive. A dispatcher commands other officers to that neighborhood for backup.
One of those responding officers asks, “Is Preston the subject that has autism?” to which the dispatcher affirms that Preston “possibly has special needs, per prior [police] contact.”
Less than a minute after that dispatch, a patrol officer reports that he’s fighting with Preston in an incident that was captured on a home surveillance system.
On Thursday, Preston’s father Adam Wolf published the video to Facebook. In an interview with a local television station, he said the whole thing began when a 16-year-old was picking on Preston while he was walking along a nearby creek. Preston eventually picked up a metal pipe to defend himself, his father said.
Adam Wolf said that didn’t excuse the actions of the officer, who was shown on the video confronting Preston in an angry manner. At one point, the officer picked up Preston’s scooter and tossed it onto a nearby sidewalk.
“Preston got scared, and that’s when he got up and the officer felt the need to throw him to the ground, and then straddle him and punch him directly in the face,” Adam Wolf said.
Preston was detained by officers for at least an hour before he was released to the care of his parents. Prior to that release, Adam Wolf says officers tried to get Preston to sign a citation.
Josh Bartholomew’s home surveillance system was the one that captured the incident with the officer. Bartholomew said the officer had every opportunity to de-escalate the situation, but likely made it worse through his actions.
“He chose to escalate the situation in a manner that resulted in Preston, in my opinion, being assaulted,” Bartholomew said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the teenager involved in the incident. His name is Preston Wolf, not Preston West.
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