Portage chief defends actions in arrest of autistic woman

2013-06-04T23:49:00Z 2013-06-05T14:46:04Z Portage chief defends actions in arrest of autistic womanJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said officers involved in the Tasering and arrest of a developmentally disabled woman Friday morning acted appropriately.

Crystal Patrick, 34, of Portage, was arrested early Friday morning after police were called to a home in the 5300 block of Central Avenue. The homeowner told police he found Patrick on his back deck and that she had taken a beer from his outdoor refrigerator.

Patrick, when found in the back yard, was uncooperative, police said.

Williams said Patrick refused to come out from behind a shed, left her hands in her pockets despite police commands to show her hands and attempted to flee.

She eventually was Tasered twice by Portage police Officer Flora Ryan.

Williams said the Tasering was appropriate because Patrick did not cooperate and Ryan did not know whether Patrick was reaching into her pocket for a weapon.

Williams said Patrick also head-butted and attempted to bite Ryan when Patrick was placed in the police car.

Patrick's arrest brought criticism of Ryan and the department by Patrick's sister, Charlotte Patrick, of South Bend, who told The Times she was outraged by the way her autistic sister was treated.

In a statement released by Williams on Tuesday, he said he believed officers acted appropriately.

"The responding officers had no idea who they were dealing with at initial contact. However, what they did know was that it was 4 a.m. and a suspicious person who had just consumed an alcoholic beverage was in the backyard of the complainant," said Williams, adding that is was only after Crystal Patrick was Tased that officers recognized her.

Even if officers had recognized Patrick earlier, said Williams, he believes they acted appropriately.

Williams said the department has had several contacts with Patrick in the past, including incidents in which she had knives, rocks, a hammer, a baseball bat, had injured a person and broken windows in a garage and vehicle.

Williams provided The Times copies of police reports involving Patrick dating back to 2010.

"Had officers known who it was at the time of the initial contact, I would still support their actions," said Williams, adding that the department believed Patrick lived in a group home and was never notified she had been released to live with her parents.

"A Taser is a lifesaving tool, not a life-taking one," Williams said. "I do not want my officers to wait to be hurt by anyone before they react to a given situation."

Williams said officers receive two hours of training annually on dealing with people with autism as part of their mandated training.

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