Vacaville cop caught punching autistic teenager
Police say the officer was simply doing his job based on a limited amount of information.
(Video courtesy Adam Wolf & Josh Bartholomew)
The Vacaville Police Department is drawing fresh scrutiny over the behavior of its police officers after a patrol cop was caught on video punching the head of an autistic teenager.
The video was released by Adam Wolf, the father of 17-year-old Preston Wolf who was briefly detained by police after being involved in an alleged assault earlier this week.
Police say they received a call from an eyewitness of two individuals who were in an altercation. Preliminary information indicated the individuals were armed, and at least one person had been stabbed.
In an interview with KTXL-TV, Adam Wolf said his son was being picked on by a 16-year-old while walking near a creek. He didn’t dispute that Preston picked up a metal object to defend himself, but said his son is the victim in the case, not the perpetrator.
Adam Wolf said that didn’t excuse the actions of the officer, who was shown on home surveillance video confronting Preston in an angry manner. At one point, the officer — whose identity has not been released — 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 told KTXL.
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.
Things did not end with the video: Adam Wolf said police eventually did learn that Preston was autistic, but that didn’t stop officers from detaining him for an hour and eventually trying to get him to sign a citation.
In a statement released to media outlets, a police spokesperson defended the officer’s actions, saying the patrol cop was acting on a limited amount of information after being dispatched to a report of an assault with a potential stabbing victim.
“Our officer had a clear description of the suspect and the minor who was arrested fit this description,” the spokesperson said. “Following the arrest, the family explained their son as a special needs individual. This was not known to our officer; his responsibility was to find and apprehend the suspect to prevent further injury.”
The incident is the latest to draw concern from members of the community over the actions of a Vacaville police officer.
In late December, the agency was scrutinized after an eyewitness video showing an officer punching a police dog in training was posted to Facebook.
Initially, the agency defended the officer’s actions, saying the dog had acted inappropriately during his training. Eventually, the agency acquiesced to an outside review of the situation and its training policies. The dog was subsequently removed from the officer’s care; the officer remains on the job.
In January, activists demanded the resignation of Vacaville’s long-time police chief after officers arrested several demonstrators who were participating in a homeless outreach event at a park.
In police dispatches reviewed by Solano NewsNet, officers carried out an undercover surveillance operation during the outreach event, then pulled over vehicles used by participants for various traffic infractions.
The stops were an apparent attempt to gather information on demonstrators and came less than one week after the police department’s main headquarters was vandalized during an anti-police rally there. Four activists were detained and booked on a variety of charges, and their cellphones were confiscated for evidence. As of late March, those phones had not been returned, according to one of the activists who was arrested that day.
The police chief announced his retirement a few weeks later.
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