The mother of a Black teenager with special needs claims Burlington, Vermont police officers used excessive force after she called them to teach her son a lesson about stealing.
According to WCAX, Cathy Austrian, who is white, filed a lawsuit last month over a 2021 encounter between Burlington officers and her 14-year-old adoptive son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and "complex trauma."
The teenager had allegedly stolen several vape pens from a convenience store in 2021. Austrian said she called police to her home, hoping it would be “a learning opportunity" for her son after she discovered the stolen goods.
Austrian said she made officers aware of her son's behavioral and intellectual disabilities. Upon arrival at the home, officers Kelsey Johnson and Sergio Caldieri asked the boy to hand over one of the vape pens, but he remained silent and didn't comply.
Officers then "needly escalated" the situation, pinning the teen face down on the floor and handcuffing him, according to the lawsuit.
During the encounter, the boy screamed at the officers as he hyperventilated. Austrian, worried that her son might have a heart attack, told officers to call EMTs to the scene.
Paramedics from the Burlington Fire Department later arrived and put a spit hood over the boy’s head. EMTs also injected the teen with ketamine.
According to the lawsuit, paramedics told Austrian that they were giving her son “something to help him calm down,” but didn't specify that it would be ketamine. The teen was taken to the hospital and later released “bruised, disoriented and traumatized by his experience,” according to the suit.
The suit is seeking damages, anti-bias training for officers, and a policy banning emergency personnel from using ketamine on anyone who may be experiencing a mental health episode.