The father of an 11-year-old autistic girl found walking naked along the freeway last week believes Oregon State Police used excessive force when a trooper shot her with a Taser before taking her into custody.
Aram Hampson said his daughter suffered injuries to her back and leg from the Taser fork that embedded in her skin. He argues that the OSP trooper had no reason to use the stun gun on his daughter because she posed no threat or danger.
"The Taser has become a tool of apprehension for police and not a tool of last resort, such as when someone threatens them," Hampson said. "She was not a threat, which should be obvious because she is a young girl and she had no clothing."
Hampson said the girl removed a barrier from her window and sneaked out of his house along Highway 99 north of Ashland in the early morning hours of June 16.
The girl, who is unable to talk because of her condition, was seen walking nude along Interstate 5 near Ashland by motorists.
According to OSP, a trooper arrived on the scene and saw the girl walking in the darkness along the southbound lanes, with her back to traffic. The trooper tried to get the girl's attention, but got no response.
When the girl appeared to move into the traffic lanes, the trooper used a Taser to subdue her. The girl became combative, forcing the trooper to grapple with her and force her into the back of a patrol car, OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings said.
"The trooper reported that the girl looked a lot older than 11," Hastings said. "We were very surprised to learn her age at the hospital."
The girl was taken to the hospital to be evaluated. Investigators wanted to know if she had been the victim of a crime and she was checked to see if she had been sexually abused, Hampson said.
The girl was returned to her family and the case remains under review by OSP officials.
"In any use-of-force case, we will take a look at what happened and see if any discipline will be handed down," Hastings said.
Hastings described the trooper in this case as an OSP veteran who has achieved senior trooper status. The trooper has not been put on administrative leave pending the results of the review, Hastings said.
The case has generated a lot of media attention, appearing on news websites and blogs across the country. OSP felt it necessary to release a statement Friday explaining the trooper's actions.
"We believe the trooper's actions might have saved her life," Hastings said. "The trooper said the girl was walking into traffic late at night. A passing motorist would not expect to find a person walking in the lane of traffic and might not have time to stop."
Hampson has spoken with a witness who saw what happened and discounts the narrative given by OSP.
"A cab driver who saw the whole thing happen said she was not walking into traffic," Hampson said. "He said the officer gave two warnings and then shot her with the Taser."
The girl does look older than 11, but that doesn't justify using the Taser, Hampson added.
"Why does it matter how old she is?" he asked. "A naked girl or woman isn't a deadly threat. The police see everyone they make contact with as some sort of threat and they are trigger-happy with these Tasers."
Hastings argued the trooper was forced to make a split-second decision based on her observations. It might not have been the best tactic to attempt to grapple with the girl and pull her from the freeway.
"A physical altercation could have ended up with both of them ending up in the roadway," Hastings said.
Hastings added that the girl could have slipped from the trooper's grasp and fled into the path of oncoming traffic.
One thing that should come out of this incident is increased training for police in dealing with people with autism, Hampson said.
Hastings agrees, saying it's possible troopers will reach out to autism experts for training in the coming weeks.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.