Taser Tales: Autistic Teen Tasered – Chief and Several Officers Out!

Taser Tales: Autistic Teen Tasered - Chief and Several Officers Out!

Tybee Island, Georgia is a sleepy, laid-back beach town a few minutes down Highway 80 just outside Savannah. The area is beautiful, with sparkling white sand beaches and blue ocean views as far as the eye can see.

The locals love their island, and they should. It’s truly a slice of heaven on earth.

Tybee is home to less than 4,000 year-round residents, with 10,000 tourists descending like hordes of swarming insects to the beachfront hotels and rental cottages during the holidays.

Fun is what a beach town is all about, and Tybee Island is no different than any other seaside tourist destination. The islanders enjoy events such as the annual Pirate Festival and the somewhat rowdy Beach Bum Parade. And the latter is where this Taser Tale began.

It was the afternoon of May 21, shortly after the parade, when 18-year-old Clifford Grevemberg and his older brother, Dario Mariani, walked to the Rock House, a local restaurant. The elder brother went inside while Clifford remained outside. He sat down on the concrete curbing and rested his head in his arms and waited for his brother to return.

Clifford is a person with special needs. He’s autistic, and he suffers from a heart condition.

What happened next resulted in the suspension of Tybee’s police chief, the resignations of two patrol officers (after they’d been suspended), the suspension of a police corporal, and the resignation of a detention officer. All after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) probe into the incident.

Grevemberg says that officers approached him, claiming he was intoxicated. They then proceeded to arrest the youth for disorderly conduct. During the restraint and detention Grevemberg was Tasered, twice. He was also forced to the sidewalk which resulted in a broken front tooth and several scrapes and bruises on his face and legs. He also suffered puncture wounds and burns from the Taser probes.

The arresting officers reported that Grevemberg was combative and resisted arrest.

* Note – It’s easy to judge the actions of the officers based on reports from the victim’s viewpoint. We’ve not seen the officer’s statements, nor have we viewed the Taser videos (the devices recorded the incident at the moment of deployment), but GBI reports indicate the officers properly deployed the Tasers, which exonerates them of any wrongdoing for that particular part of the arrest. We weren’t there so there’s no way for us to form an opinion.

The other troubles that occurred…well, I believe they’re already headed toward civil action.

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6 replies
  1. Barbara L
    Barbara L says:

    A retarded youth Robert worked for my grandparents. His own father gave him a bicycle. He pedaled to the nearest small town, 5 miles away. (This was in NH, circa 1953). The police chief saw him and asked where he got the bike. He answered, “My father gave it to me.” The chief told him he lied, and then jumped him without warning or cause. Robert fought back (I’m not remembering if the chief had even identified himself). Robert clenched his teeth on the guy’s left thumb. The chief eventually subdued him and threw him into jail.
    A passing woman saw him hours later through the jail window and found he had no water or food. She got him a hamburger and soda. She found out where he was staying and called my grandparents.
    My grandmother was upset, explaining to me that she had ironed neatly Robert’s plaid shirt. The police chief’s unexpected attack was witnessed. My grandmother said he never asked where Robert was living.
    The police chief lost his thumb due to infection. He had a poor reputation in town and I think eventually lost his job.

    This story reminds me of that one.

  2. Sarah Fairall
    Sarah Fairall says:

    There ought to be autism alert bracelets/necklaces for people to wear–like medi-alert bracelets–so that law enforcement or EMTs will be aware that they are dealing with someone who might not respond the way they expect. I know there are lots of wristbands and other jewelry available for sale to support autism research, but an alert bracelet or necklace might prevent another incident like the one described here.

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Carla. Thanks so much for the much-needed insight. You’ll be pleased to know, although it’s too late to help in this instance, that the remaining employees of police department in question are currently undergoing education/training about autism. Even if (and that’s an “if”) the officers did nothing wrong, this is a step in a good direction.

  4. Carla
    Carla says:

    As the mother of an autistic teenager, I can verify that it’s nearly impossible to know, just by passing my son on a sidewalk, that there’s anything different about him. He’s 6’2″, 220 lbs, and looks like any other 13 year old. Well, okay, he’s tall for his age, but talk to him and you’ll find that he has the intellectual development of a 6 year old. He carries around a folder with pictures from Winnie the Pooh movies, which are his treasures.

    You’re all right, we weren’t there. There’s always 3 sides to every story: what the kid said happened, what the police said happened, and what really happened. But I know more and more police (especially in PA) are being trained on how to identify autism behaviors. Someone with autism might sound like he’s intoxicated to the untrained ear. My son stutters, and the stutter gets worse when he’s nervous. If he turns anxious, he’s nearly incomprehensible. You won’t be able to get two words out of him if he goes beyond that. You will, however, get a lot of yelling and crying.

    People in our area are working to introduce our kids to law enforcement officers and vice versa. We don’t want our kids being afraid of someone in uniform; our kids need to see officers as people they can count on if they need help. It also helps the officers see that our kids may need a moment or two to collect themselves and make themselves understood. All it takes is a smile and a friendly voice, and everything’s fine.

    The Autism Society of America sells a sticker you can put on your front door, to alert first responders that there’s an autistic individual in the house who may not respond to commands the way a typical person would. It’s too bad we can’t have the same kind of alert for the autistic individuals themselves, or maybe stuff like this wouldn’t happen.

    Sorry for the rant but this one hits a large, raw nerve.

  5. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    As always, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

    The thing that popped out here is that a detention officer resigned, which tells me something happened at the jail, which may end up being more of a problem than the arrest itself.

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