Bidirectional Truth & Distortion Follow Sheriff’s Deputies’ Shooting Of Autistic AV Teen

There has been a mix of verifiable and factually inconsistent statements emanating from both the sheriff’s department and the Gainer Family and the family’s support network in the aftermath of the department’s fatal shooting of 15-year-old Ryan Gainer on March 9.
According to the sheriff’s department, “On Saturday, March 9, 2024, at approximately 4:48 p.m., deputies from the Apple Valley Police Department responded to an emergency 9-1-1 call at a residence in the 13400 block of Iroquois Road. Family reported to sheriff’s dispatch Ryan Gainer was actively assaulting family members and damaging property at the residence. At approximately 4:54 p.m., the first deputy arrived at the residence and was confronted by Gainer, who was armed with an approximate five-foot-long garden tool, with a sharp bladed end. Without provocation, Gainer raised the bladed end of the tool and ran toward the deputy. The deputy retreated and Gainer chased the deputy in an attempt to assault him with the bladed end of the tool. A lethal force encounter occurred, and Gainer was struck by gunfire. Deputies quickly rendered medical aid to Gainer and continued until paramedics arrived. Gainer was transported by ambulance to a local hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.”
The rapid identification of the victim, a minor, as well as his family, was significant, as the department, law enforcement agencies in California and governmental entities have a standard practice of not identifying minors involved in alleged crimes or encounters with authorities. Furthermore, the department, which has only within the last eight months begun outfitting its deputies with bodyworn cameras, made a rapid release of the footage of the incident from the first two responding deputies, those being on hand when the shooting took place. This represented on multiple fronts – both because such video has not been available as a consequence of the sheriff’s department’s recent acquisition of the cameras and because it has now created a precedent against which the department’s reaction in making releases on any future shootings will be gauged – an extraordinary development.
There was some subtle and not-so-subtle editing to the video that was released. Nevertheless, it depicted elements of what occurred that cut, or potentially cut, both ways in sizing up the reasonableness of the response.
While the department, as per Sheriff Shannon Dicus, maintains that both deputies fired their weapons, the two videos that were released do not appear to conclusively show that the first deputy on the scene, who was reacting to young Gainer advancing on him with what was described as a “hula hoe,” discharged his weapon. The first deputy to arrive, is seen parking on the right shoulder of the street near the extreme end of at the front of the typically desert-landscaped yard of the Gainer home at 13494 Iroquois Road at 4:54:28, with the perspective of the camera showing the deputy removing what appear to be his sunglasses and affixing them atop of his head. As he approaches the front door of the home while moving around what appear to be bushes that stand in the yard some fifteen to twenty feet directly before the front door, the deputy steps toward the front porch of the house, at which point the audio from the video activates, whether by the deputy or by the editor of the video is unclear. The deputy can be heard saying, as he approached the doorway “Where’s he at?” Almost immediately, Gainer emerges into the hallway visible from the perspective of the doorway, carrying the hoe. He advances rapidly toward the deputy, who, it appears from the perspective of the bodyworn camera, to be retreating backwards from the entrance, while simultaneously, it appears, drawing his service gun and pointing it at Gainer. The deputy can be heard saying, “Get back or you’ll get shot.” Again, from the perspective of that deputy’s bodyworn camera, it appears that Gainer is advancing on him more rapidly than the deputy is succeeding in walking backwards, at which point, it appears, the deputy turns to his right to be able to flee while running forward rather than stepping backwards in the face of Gainer advancing toward him. There is no loud report of a gunshot on the audio of the video that would be consistent with the deputy having discharged his weapon and from the movement depicted on the video and the shadowing visible on the ground, as well as the rapid movement of the deputy’s left arm and empty hand and right arm and right hand carrying his service gun, it appears the deputy is in full running mode away from the pursuing Gainer, who is no longer visible in the scope of the video’s visual field. When the deputy wheels, apparently to his right to again face Gainer, the second deputy is visible off to the left of the visual field, while Gainer is on the ground.
At 4:57:58, the first deputy radios to sheriff’s dispatch, “There are deputies who have been injured.”
The released portion of the bodyworn video from the second deputy to arrive at the Gainer home shows the deputy parking his vehicle on the left shoulder of the street opposed to traffic, getting out of his vehicle at 4:55:01 and walking toward the Gainer home, more to the left of the bushes in front of the home than the first deputy, who came toward the house from the right of the bushes. Unlike the bodyworn camera video of the first deputy, the second-arriving deputy’s audio is engaged from before he gets out of his vehicle. The perspective of his bodyworn camera video shows that he approached the Gainer residence from the opposite direction than the previous deputy, as his vehicle is parked on the left side of the street at the far end of the yard to the Gainer home opposite of the other deputy’s vehicle, which is at the opposite side of the Gainer home yard, such that the vehicles are facing one another at a distance close to the span of the Gainer property’s yard width. During his first few steps onto the property at 13493 Iroquois, little can be discerned in the field of vision of the second-arriving deputy’s bodyworn camera, as the front of the house is lost in the glare of the sun and hidden by the bushes which obscure much of what stands near the front porch. Suddenly audible is the first deputy’s warning to “Get back or you’ll get shot.” A split second later the first deputy can be seen backing away from the house’s front entrance and then turning to run away from the hoe-carrying Gainer as he emerges from the house. As the first deputy completes his turn to run forward with his back to Gainer, he is yet training his gun in his right hand toward his pursuer behind him without being able to see what it is aimed at. When Gainer fully emerges from behind the bushes at what looks to be a full gallop, the second deputy can be seen pointing his gun at Gainer, Gainer takes no more than two to three strides after the fleeing first deputy once his figure emerges unobscured by the bushes before the second deputy fires his gun three times, it seems, at 4:55:13 and 4:55:14 on the video. It appears that Gainer is immediately felled by one or more of the shots. One of Gainer’s sisters and his mother can be heard wailing and screaming, yelling “You didn’t have to shoot him!” and “Why did you shoot him” and “Oh, my God!” and “Why’d you do that” and “You are the devil” and “Why would you shoot my baby?” and “Where was your Taser?” Both deputies tell the women, who are advancing toward Gainer, lying on the ground, to get “Get back” and Go back” and “Get back inside.” Both deputies appear to be reluctant to approach the fallen Gainer while the mother and sister are proximate to them. With the women still keening and yelling, the first deputy, at 4:55:48, says “We’re going to get him help. Get back in the residence.”
At 4:55:59, a man can be heard saying, “Check him out, guys. Check him out!”
At 4:56:01 on the second deputy’s bodyworn camera video, a third deputy, one who appears to be putting gloves onto his hands, comes into the field of vision. At 4:56:17, the third deputy walks to stand over Gainer and then bends down to examine him. At 4:56:20, the video shows that the second deputy has gone toward the prone Gainer where he bends down to pick up the hula hoe. It appears that the third deputy begins cardiopulmonary resuscitation at 4:57:13, which is just about two minutes after Gainer was shot.
Over the next several minutes, the three deputies are engaged in providing Gainer with cardiopulmonary resuscitation while pausing briefly to check for a pulse, for wounds, to put a compression patch or tourniquets in place. “Come on, buddy,” one of the deputies can be heard saying on a couple of occasions when another deputy reports that he cannot detect a pulse in Gainer.
At 5:03:15, a firefighter/paramedic team arrives.
Gainer was eventually transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
On Sunday, the day after the shooting, department announced that a fatal shooting had occurred the previous day, disclosing Ryan Gainer as the deceased and that the incident had taken place at a home in the 13400 block of Iroquois Road. Released to selected members of the media was the audio of the frantic 9-1-1 call made by one of the family members and descriptions of what was captured on the first-arriving deputy’s bodyworn video camera, specifically that Gainer was armed with a “five-foot-long garden tool, with a bladed end,” with which he attempted to attack a deputy.
Sheriff Dicus at that time made an oblique justification of the use of lethal force, saying, “Our social safety net for those experiencing mental illness needs to be strengthened. 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.”
After the initial reports of what had occurred, there were reflexive statements of support for the department and deputies, who had not been identified. Conversely, there was a round of criticism from multiple quarters suggesting that excessive force had been used and questions about why the department had not made a less than lethal response to the circumstance.
By Sunday, March 10, the Gainer family had retained Attorney DeWitt Lacy of the Beverly Hills-based law firm of Burris Nisenbaum Curry & Lacy to represent them.
On Wednesday, Lacy had made an initial statement that Gainer had autism and was exhibiting mental health issues in the events leading up to his death. Lacy was widely quoted by several media outlets.
“There are great questions as to whether it was appropriate to use deadly force against a 15-year-old autistic kid who was having an episode,” Lacy said.
At the command echelon within the department, the department’s higher-ups had the advantageous perspective of having access to the unexpurgated footage from the bodyworn video cameras of the officers who had responded to the Gainer home, together with the more than 5-minute long 9-1-1 recording of a call from Gainer’s sister giving, from her verbal perspective, a second-by-second description of the situation within the Gainer household in the time prior to the arrival of the deputies.
After some editing of those videos, Dicus convened a press conference on Wednesday. He displayed those portions of the videos that captured the confrontation with Gainer and the shooting.
Dicus sought to reinforce his previous suggestion that his deputies were confronted with a mentally ill individual, which presented demands that were beyond their level of expertise and that this created an unwinnable situation.
Dicus said, “It was certainly my hope that to keep the community together when these things happen that we’re transparent, that we release the information so they understand why the deputies on March 9 used force. Since then, I received a number of questions from both media outlets and certain civic groups that there are questions as to whether we prevented or didn’t immediately treat the victim in this case or the suspect in this case and it goes both ways and I’ll explain that and qualify that. It is something we hate to have to show that law enforcement deals with on a day-to-day basis. I believe our social safety network needs to be strengthened. In this case, since January, we’ve been to this residence in Apple Valley five times. Out of those five times, the 15-year-old juvenile, Ryan, was taken to a mental health facility both by ambulance and by law enforcement and there was no force that had to be used in any of these incidents. That’s my point of saying our social safety network is not working and needs to be strengthened. There is no reason that 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.”
Dicus said, “There are no winners or losers in situations like this. The reality is that Ryan’s family and the deputy sheriffs that were involved in this case will have to remember this for their entire lives. I think it’s important that we remember this and we stay united as a community. What in my opinion is happening here is there were plenty of times to offramp Ryan and get him the health care and mental health care that he needed. In my opinion, based on the frequency of times in which law enforcement had to be involved for Ryan’s family’s sake and Ryan’s sake prior to the shooting, I think that’s the important piece that we have to talk about here.”
With regard to the actual shooting, Dicus indicated that Gainer was shot by both deputies, which did not seem to correspond with what was depicted on both bodyworn camera videos. Of the seven individuals who observed the videos in the Sentinel newsroom, six said it appeared and sounded to them that it was the second deputy who arrived who discharged three shots at Gainer while he was in motion. One said it seemed the first deputy might have fired a single shot. At the press conference, Dicus qualified his statement to say, “Right now, this is preliminary information.” Dicus did not touch on whether the audio of the video from the first-arriving deputy’s bodyworn camera may have been altered or manipulated to lessen or eliminate the sound of his gunshot.
“Both the deputies arrived on scene,” Dicus said. “We believe that both of them shot and a total of three rounds were fired. That’s all preliminary at this point. I may be able to come back and report different things later, but preliminarily right now, that’s what we have.”
Dicus sought to explain why his deputies had not used non-lethal rounds against Gainer.
“You actually hear [on the audio of the first deputy’s video] Ryan’s family say, ‘Why didn’t you use a taser?’” Dicus noted. “In training what we do with our deputy sheriffs, they are exposed to being tased. They are exposed to pepper spray. The other thing they are exposed to and the reason they do is we have to fight through that. We have to teach them to fight through that, heaven forbid, any of those use-of-force techniques were used against them. With that being said, those techniques don’t always work. When you’re talking time and distance and making these critical life-threatening decisions, particularly with somebody coming down with a deadly weapon on you and having the second deputy come up and see what his partner is being threatened with, the use of a taser in this situation with the amount of time or the use of pepper spray would not have been something that we would have been able to react to. Even law enforcement officers, they are not required to be hit over the head with something. What happens when that happens and they get incapacitated? They also bring firearms and a number of other things that can be used against them. So, you have to take in the totality of their training and really isolate in, what’s the best thing to do in this case given. I think it’s important [to keep in perspective] our law enforcement officers have obviously responded five other times in this case with absolutely zero force used.”
“What really boils down here is the first deputy arrives on scene. It’s about 30 seconds before he immediately encounters the suspect and that instance where he’s running away and trying to gain distance from the suspect and warning him that he’s going to shoot lasts seven seconds,” Dicus said. “My point in bringing that up: A lot of people ask, ‘Well, you know what happened before this.’ and we don’t know if the deputies knew that. Obviously, we have a number of shifts. Maybe the deputies had never been at Ryan’s family’s home. What we need to really look at is even if we had the best healthcare, the best psychologists, in that immediate interaction and those seven seconds, there are no magic words. We pay law enforcement officers to stop threats and to stop violence. The deputy hadn’t even made it into the house to investigate the claims that were made of assault with somebody injured. There’s just a number of things they have to encounter. I think we need to understand in this circumstance – whether we knew, didn’t know, had the best resources available to us – this is a reactionary time. If we are looking at this in the scope of being a human being and what they’re trained for, the deputies followed through with what their training protocols are.”
Dicus offered his assessment that under such circumstances encountered by his deputies on March 9, “lethal force is perfectly appropriate. We can give you plenty of cases where certainly juveniles can be dangerous. He is large of stature, of course. He is physically fit There are a number of those things going on here. Each deputy is trained to take the totality of circumstances in which they’re dealing [into consideration]. Unfortunately, in this case it was immediately being confronted with extreme violence. It’s not just a hula hoe that you are seeing. You’re also seeing a frying pan. When you overlap that that to the 9-1-1 call that we’ve already released, you hear the family making these claims of windows being broken, being assaulted and a number of things. We have to understand that law enforcement officers are our fists. We are civilized. They go out and do this work for us and they need to be supported. This is why I think it’s critical that we be very transparent about what goes through here, what goes through their mind and really have what are complex conversations as to why we do the things we do. These are unfortunate events.”
Despite Dicus’s pronouncement that lethal force was an appropriate response by his deputies on March 9, which was a reiteration of his earlier assertion that the decisions by his deputies to use lethal force were lawful, Dicus insisted that a fair and independent investigation was taking place.
“We’re still involved in an investigation,” Dicus said, one which is being conducted by Detective Shawn Thurman and Sergeant Justin Giles of the department’s specialized investigations division under the watchful eyes of the department’s senior officers. “Any time officers are involved in a lethal force encounter, officer-involved shooting, we do a full-blown homicide investigation,” Dicus continued, saying the “case will go to the DA’s office, and they will certainly look independently as to whether or not what the officers did is lawful and constitutional. That is our normal course and process. Also, during the investigation, representatives from the law enforcement division of the DA’s office as well as prosecutors are on scene for that independent eye.”
Dicus acknowledged that some of the audio from the video after the shooting took place was dropped out of a portion of the video while the officers were performing CPR and other “life-sustaining” efforts because at that point they were discussing how many shots had been fired so they could ascertain the extent of Gainer’s wounds and other injuries, which Dicus said was information relating to the investigation that should not yet be released.
According to Lacy, the family’s attorney, Gainer sustained three gunshot wounds to his abdomen, which he claimed would not have been fatal if the deputies had rendered medical aid in a timely manner. This was because, Lacy maintains, Gainer expired because of respiratory failure.
The sheriff’s department claims that Lacy’s assertion has no basis, as an autopsy has not yet been performed and that a deputy performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Gainer until the arrival of paramedics.
According to Lacy, on March 9, Ryan’s parents had required that he perform some household chores before he would be allowed to play video games or listen to music on his computer, which triggered an intemperate reaction from the 15-year-old, extending to his destruction of some items and his hitting one of his sisters. That is what precipitated the call to the sheriff’s department, Lacy said. The deputies’ response was disproportionate to the threat Gainer posed, according to the attorney. Prior to the arrival of the deputies, Lacy claimed, Ryan’s father had managed to calm his son. Lacy acknowledged that when the deputy approached the front door, Ryan Gainer came toward him, bearing the gardening tool. Lacy said that based upon the sheriff’s department’s previous encounters with Ryan, the deputies through the department’s information and dispatch system should have known “this was somebody that had some mental health issues at times. They knew or they should have known that Ryan was an individual, a teen, with autism, as the sheriff’s department had come to that residence before to give assistance. This time they decided to depart from that training and immediately jump to lethal force. Shots were inappropriate and uncalled for. Law enforcement are trained to encounter persons who might be experiencing some type of mental health episode like Ryan and one of the main tactics they utilize is time and distance. One of the officers began to do that as he retreated from Ryan. The other chose to use deadly force.”
Ryan Gainer was, Lacy said, a “charming kid,” despite his behavior late in the afternoon of March 9. He had hopes of becoming an engineer, Lacy said. He called for a thorough and independent analysis of the deputies’ action.
According to Lacy, the community and society in general should pursue “accountability and reform in law enforcement practices, especially in how officers engage individuals with mental health challenges.”
While previously deferring all comment to Lacy, the Gainer family put out a statement yesterday. “We are lost navigating this traumatic experience, battling feelings of devastation and unimaginable despair,” the statement said. “Ryan was a great kid, our world; he didn’t deserve this!”
According to the Gainers, “Ryan was very active in our community, involving himself with tutoring kids after school, assisting with robotics programs, community clean up and so much more. He was a super intelligent, kind, generous, respectable, thoughtful, funny, goofy, charismatic person, who always saw the good in people. Our hearts continue to break at the thought of him being robbed of his bright future.”
Setting respect for a grieving family and the need for the sheriff’s department to minimize its liability aside, members of the community observing the spectacle could not help note elements of the entire matter that are incongruous with the assertions by Dicus, the Gainers and the family’s lawyer, in addition to some inconsistencies within the statements themselves.
Dicus’s insistence that the shooting, perpetrated by at least one and potentially two of his deputies is being fairly, impartially and thoroughly investigated by investigators employed by his department even as he, their collective boss, has pronounced that, based on the circumstances surrounding the shooting, the use of force was by the book, in accordance with protocol, consistent with the deputies’ training and both legal and constitutional, raises questions as to the whether the conclusion to be reached will be one based upon the full gathering and honest and unbiased evaluation of evidence or whether it is one that is predetermined. Even if Dicus’s observation that his department is ill-cast in the role of responding to those in the throes of a mental health crisis and such tasks should be left to psychological and psychiatric professionals has merit, the circumstance involving Gainer and his department on March 9 and the sheriff’s assertion that the use of deadly force was a legitimate reaction to it raises questions about how the safety of those psychological and psychiatric professionals, who carry none of the weaponry available to law enforcement officers, can be ensured.
The Gainer family’s touching remembrance of their son and brother as someone who was kind, generous and always saw the good in others clashes with individual depicted on two sheriff’s deputies’ bodyworn videos, showing him wielding a large bladed tool with malevolent intent, just minutes after his sister had phoned the sheriff’s office, telling the dispatcher that deputies “got to take him in” because he was engaged in an “assault and battery” and “hitting” his sister, had “done broke the house, a door and a window” and was menacingly walking about with a shard of glass in his hand. The family’s characterization of him as a “charismatic person, who always saw the good in people” and was socially and civically active and who mentored and “tutored other students” starkly clashes with the description of “autistic” provided by the family’s attorney. Autism is defined as social and behavioral disorder or spectrum condition which renders communication and maintaining relationships difficult and problematic.
-Mark Gutglueck

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