FORDHAM — Police officers threw a 17-year-old autistic boy onto the ground outside his Bronx home and punched him in the face — then hauled him to the precinct stationhouse where they questioned him before releasing him without charges, according to a lawsuit.
A lawyer for Troy Canales, now 18, said the NYPD violated the teen's civil rights during the Nov. 12 incident, which began at 8 p.m. after a pair of officers drove up and saw Canales leaning against a car outside his family’s house on Bainbridge Avenue in The Bronx, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.
The lawsuit claims the officers clearly had no training in how to deal with people with special needs when they began haranguing Canales, who is verbally communicative but has a hard time making eye contact with strangers, about what he was doing there.
"The New York City Police Department’s practices, procedures, training and rules, including those in the NYPD Patrol Guide, do not account for, instruct on, delineate, or provide guidelines for Police Officer communication and interaction with people with developmental disabilities and autism in a constitutionally adequate manner," lawyer Carmen Giordano wrote in the lawsuit, which calls on the NYPD to improve its training of its officers to work with people with disabilities including autism.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said the department does train officers to deal with autistic people.
"In the academy, in the humanities curriculum, there is training specific to the issue of autism as well as other courses to learn how to deal with emotionally disturbed persons, and understanding the EDP category's a very broad-based category," Bratton said Wednesday.
An NYPD spokesman declined to comment further citing pending litigation.
Canales said he was “minding my own business, when I saw a cop car turn the corner. And then I saw the cop car stop their vehicle and got out."
“They said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said I wasn't doing nothing,” he said.
Moments later, the officers — whose identities were not given to Canales or his family — pinned him to the ground and slammed his face into the cement sidewalk, according to the lawsuit.
An officer also punched Canales in the face, according to the suit.
The teen said he didn't understand what was happening, and said he called out for his mother as the officers dragged him toward the police vehicle.
Canales' mother, Alyson Valentine, said she ran out and saw her son cuffed on the ground. Though she told police her son was autistic and begged them to tell her why he was being arrested, they ignored her and took him down to the station, according to the lawsuit.
“All I see is my baby on the ground with a cop on his back,” Valentine told DNAinfo New York. “And they wouldn’t even give me any indication of what the reason why."
“I think maybe he didn’t have eye contact with them. Maybe that could have been a problem,” she added. “When he goes outside he thinks he’s normal but he’s not really normal, so he does things that people don’t really understand.”
After an hour, Canales was released without any charges or an explanation, according to the lawsuit.
One arresting officer claimed he had “feared for his life” upon talking to Canales, according to the complaint.
Valentine said her son was walked out of The Bronx's 52nd Precinct by an NYPD captain who took her aside and told her, “I’m sorry that this happened, but things like this happen.’"
Canales’ bruises healed quickly, but the trauma of the event continues to plague him, his mother said.
“He stayed in his room, and that’s not like him. Even the coldest day, he always goes outside.”
After he spent a month inside, she took him to a therapist, who has helped him to venture off his front porch again.
“Take it one step at a time,” Canales said. “Like first staying on the porch, next the sidewalk.”
Valentine said she had always told her son to call the police if something went wrong, but now she is teaching him to protect himself against them.
“I never told him how to behave if a cop stopped him,” she said. "If a cop comes to you, put your hands up, you know. Show them your hands so that way they wouldn’t feel a threat. But I never thought to tell him that because I never felt that he was capable of doing anything to get himself in a situation."
Valentine said she would like to see the NYPD better train its officers how to interact with people with developmental disabilities.
“Every other house on the block, there’s a child with disability,” she said. “A lot of them don’t come outside that much. If you’re policing the neighborhood, you should know the people."