Apple Valley family files claim against sheriff over fatal shooting of teen with autism

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, March 22, 2024
Apple Valley family files claim against sheriff over fatal shooting
Family members of an Apple Valley teen with autism have filed a claim against San Bernardino County after he was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies.

APPLE VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) -- Family members of an Apple Valley teen with autism have filed a claim against San Bernardino County, nearly two weeks after the 15-year-old was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies.

"Guess who had to tell her sister that her baby was dead? I did," said Sheila Silver, the teen's aunt, at a news conference held by the family's attorneys outside their home. "(Ryan) was smart, but he had issues."

Norman Gainer spoke about his son, Ryan Gainer, detailing the struggles the boy had since they adopted him out of foster care in 2011.

"(As a baby) Ryan was a drug exposure, and had alcohol fetal syndrome," said Norman Gainer. "Kids teased him because he was wearing pullups because he had Crohn's disease.

"Then we found out he was getting bullied for being on what's called the 'short bus,' so we figured out we could take him back and forth to school every day. But he just wanted to ride the regular bus. So we said if he wants to ride the regular bus we just have to trust God that he was going to be safe."

"But he was always happy. He just wanted to be treated the same."

Gainer said his son had been acting out on multiple occasions in the past few months, primarily because of frustration with his mother's recent health struggles.

On March 9, Ryan was acting out over frustration with doing household chores, attorney Dewitt Lacy said. His sister called 911 and told the dispatcher that Ryan had assaulted his other sister, and that he had broken through the front door of the home.

When deputies arrived and began entering the home, body camera video provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department shows Gainer charging at deputies holding a gardening tool known as a hula hoe, as well as a frying pan.

Two deputies opened fire, discharging a total of three rounds. The sheriff's department said it took deputies about one minute to secure the scene from distraught family members, before attempting CPR.

They worked on Gainer for more than five minutes before paramedics arrived. Gainer was pronounced dead at the hospital.

"We have to remember that law enforcement officers are not required to be hit over the head with something (before acting)," said San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus at a news conference last week, defending the decision to use lethal force.

"The use of a taser or pepper spray, with that amount of time, would not have been something to react to quick enough."

Dicus also said services for those struggling with mental health issues need to be strengthened, saying his deputies shouldn't be the people responding to these types of crises.

"In this case since January we'd been to this residence in Apple Valley five times," Dicus said. "Out of those five times, the juvenile was taken to a mental health facility both by ambulance and by law enforcement. And there was no force that had to be used at any of these incidents."

"That's why I'm saying our social safety network is not working and needs to be strengthened. There is no reason law enforcement should be the ones that end up having to get involved in these crises specifically when we've off-ramped these individuals to social services that are supposed to be designed to take care of their mental health needs."

But family members and their supporters argued that it's law enforcement that needs better training, specifically when it comes to dealing with those with mental health issues.

"People with autism have trouble understanding situations," said Aisha Novasky with Disability Rights California. "They have communication barriers; and what Ryan was displaying were symptoms of his disability that were perceived as threats and a refusal to cooperate with police.

"And that's just not what it was."