Apple Valley teen shot by deputy had autism, was acting out after family dispute, attorney says

Rob McMillan Image
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
Apple Valley teen shot by deputies had autism, family attorney says
An Apple Valley teen who was fatally shot as he charged at a deputy with a gardening tool had autism, the family's attorney says.

APPLE VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) -- We're learning more about what led up to a fatal encounter between a 15-year-old at his Apple Valley home and San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies.

A deputy shot and killed Ryan Gainer at his home on Saturday after his family called 911 to report he was attacking his sister and breaking doors and glass at the home.

Body camera video released by the sheriff's department shows the teen charging at a deputy with a sharp gardening tool on a 5-foot pole.

With his gun raised, the deputy shouts "Hey get back! Get back or you're gonna get shot" as he tries to retreat. As Ryan continues running at him with the tool, the deputy is seen trying to run away but pointing his gun back as the teen nearly catches up to him.

The released portion of the video ends there, but the department says the teen was struck by gunfire and then later declared deceased at a local hospital.

Ryan's family has retained an attorney, who tells Eyewitness News the boy had autism and was acting out after a dispute over doing household chores.

"Ryan is a 15-year-old with autism, and sometimes in order to release stress or if he he's a little too worked up, he'll go on a run," attorney DeWitt Lacy says.

"When he came back there was a dispute that arose because he wanted to play video games, and he needed to do his chores, and he started acting out."

Gainer's sister called 911 for help. Audio released of that call documents her telling the dispatcher that her brother is attacking his own sister and breaking glass and doors in the home.

There is no indication on the released audio that the family informed the department of his developmental condition.

Neighbors say deputies have been called to the home before. When shown the video, several neighbors differed on whether there was a need to fatally shoot Ryan, or whether the situation could have been de-escalated somehow.

"He'd been struggling with a few things but he was basically a good kid," said one neighbor.

Another neighbor said from the video it appeared the deputy had no choice but to protect himself.

"When an officer is attacked with any kind of weapon, especially under that circumstance, seeing that video, I don't know how much of a choice he had not to do what he did," said neighbor Joe Gabler.

The sheriff's department's Specialized Investigations Division is investigating the incident.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus released a statement acknowledging that society needs to improve its social safety net for people with mental conditions.

"Our deputies handle seemingly insurmountable calls daily. Most of these calls do not end in violence. However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family, and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split second decisions. While these decisions are lawful, they are awful in terms of our humanity. I feel for both Ryan's family and my deputies who will struggle with this for their entire lives."