CPCIDD issues statement on Ryan Gainer

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We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Ryan Gainer, a 15 year old African American boy with autism, who was shot and killed during an interaction with the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department on March 9, 2024. Our heart-felt condolences and sympathies go out to the Gainer family and all those that knew and loved Ryan, as they have suffered an unimaginable loss.

Among the details that have been released at this point is the fact officers had previously responded to mental health calls at the Gainer’s residence 5 times within the last 3 months.  With many of the details still yet to be released we are all left to speculate on how a call from a desperate family member seeking help could result in the death of their loved one.  Unfortunately, there is a long and well-documented history of law enforcement encounters going horribly awry when they involve people with disabilities, especially people who have complex behaviors as part of their disability.

We can’t keep losing our loved ones with disabilities because the policies, procedures, and practices in law enforcement are inadequate to serve and protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Collectively, we must ask “What failed and why? Why did we lose another member of the IDD community to a law enforcement interaction gone horribly wrong?”  Since law enforcement was called to the residence 5 times in the last 3 months it is more than reasonable to assume that the responding officer(s) should have been informed, and therefore knew or reasonably should have known, that they were responding to a person with autism who was having a behavioral crisis. If that did not happen… that was the first failure in a series of failures that led to death of this young man, and the utter devastation of his family.

We can only assume that SBSD has polices, and procedures related to officer interactions and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, or individuals experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, given that there is no clear guidance set forth in their public facing documents (i.e. Sheriff Department Manual, or Mandated Policies). Ultimately, whether explicitly stated or not, the policies and procedures failed in the field where they matter most.  They failed  when put to the test because the officers were not adequately trained to handle a behavioral crisis. In the very short clip of body camera footage, that was made available to the public, there does not appear to be an attempt to de-escalate the situation, but rather, a command to “Get back! Get back or you’re gonna get shot!”  Recognizing that all the details are not yet public, it is still unimaginable that there was not some other response available, other than deadly force, that the officers could have used to deter Ryan from advancing toward the first officer on the scene.

Regularly updated model policies, procedures, and practices for law enforcement officers are a very important part of training and ensuring best practices in law enforcement. However unless these policies, procedures, and practices are paired with consistent, meaningful, and on-going training, specific to interacting with people with IDD, we are going to continue to mourn the loss of members of the IDD community. The criminalization of disability – treating a person with a disability like a criminal because of behaviors related to their disability – is a very real problem that we as a society all need to recognize and address.  Ryan’s death, like so many other people with IDD who have lost their lives as a result of an interaction with law enforcement, was PREVENTABLE!  We can do better, we HAVE to do better by our loved ones with IDD.

The California Legislature has recognized the magnitude of this problem and the ABSOLUTE CRITICAL NEED to prioritize improving interactions between law enforcement and the IDD community. Senate Bill 882 (Eggman) was passed in 2022 which created an Advisory Council, under the Department of Justice, specifically dedicated to improving interactions between people with IDD and law enforcement. Members of the Advisory Council have been appointed and they are set to begin meeting soon. The purpose of the council is to evaluate existing training for law enforcement officers as it relates to interacting with the IDD community, analyze what is working and what is not working, and make recommendations to the legislature on how these interactions can be improved. The Advisory Council meetings will be public and stakeholder input is essential to the process of advancing strong policy recommendations from the Advisory Council to the legislature.  

We will do our best to share information through our social media platforms, newsletters, and public communications about the meetings and how interested stakeholders can engage in the process with the Advisory Council. Interested stakeholders can also check the meeting calendar on the DOJ website https://oag.ca.gov/meetings

Again, on behalf of the California Policy Center for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (CPCIDD), we extend our deepest and most sincere condolences to the Gainer family. We are so very sorry for your loss.