Elijah Young: I get very nervous, and sometimes a little bit scared.
Since Arnaldo can’t tell me himself how he feels about the police, at least not in a way my microphone can capture, I reached out to a bunch of different autistic self-advocates. I wanted to know more about this complicated relationship between autistic people and cops.
I met Elijah Young. He’s 27, black, trans, and autistic. Doesn’t feel great when he sees police.
EY: Because, I'm worried that they might, take me like to an institution or something.
AQ: That feels like a real fear.
EY: Yeah. When I'm really really stressed, sometimes I might yell. And, I know that's, a lot of people consider that very disruptive. And, but, it's hard for me to control? I just want to, I just want to, like, yell something inappropriate. Or scream.
Elijah lives just outside DC. He’s never met Arnaldo, but like so many autistic people, has been closely following his story. Says he’s been committed to psych wards nine times, twice with the police involved.
EY: The police. Seemed kind of friendly. Kind of concerned. But I was still very scared. I was worried about making one wrong move because then, I might've gotten arrested.
He writes a lot on issues around treatment of autistic people, autistic civil rights. Elijah’s writing is just so compassionate, like, Hey, reader. I’ve been through this tough stuff. You’re not alone if you have too.
When Elijah read on Facebook about Arnaldo and the shooting — his history, how the cops mistook his actions, how he got put in an institution afterwards — it hit close.
Like Arnaldo, Elijah also used to repeat TV and movie lines when he was younger. Still sometimes whispers them.
EY: It helps calm me down and keeps me from, I guess it keeps me from getting overwhelmed. People's minds work in different ways. Some people stim, some people don't. Some people talk to themselves. Some people don't. And I think there needs to be more compassion for people like me and Arnaldo.
AQ: What would you want to say to Arnaldo? What would you want to tell him?
EY: I want to tell him that, you, you're an amazing person. And you are worth having the things that everybody else has.
AQ: What gives you the sense that he's an amazing person?
EY: The fact that, he's, he's been through so much. And that he is still fighting. I can tell he's frustrated. That he's not living the life he's wanted because he keeps having run-ins, with the police.
AQ: What do you think he's fighting for?
EY: For freedom.
I’m Audrey Quinn. And this is Aftereffect.
In the last episode we visited a bunch of times and places in Arnaldo’s past. The schools, the group homes, the psych wards. But what I didn’t understand yet was what role the police play in all this.
Because July 18th, 2016 — the shooting with Charles — wasn’t Arnaldo’s first encounter with the cops, they’d loomed pretty big in his life for years before that.
But that location, where the shooting happened, where police picked him up the next day and committed him to a psych ward one more time, that was Arnaldo’s last encounter with cops.
So, I wanted to start there, in North Miami. To understand the relationship between the North Miami police, and the group home where Arnaldo had lived, MACtown.
I drove eight blocks past the intersection where the shooting happened, the shooting, past the street where Arnaldo’s MACtown group home was, and around the corner to the home of MACtown’s president, Clint Bower.
It’s an olive green one-story that’s dwarfed by the well-pruned jungle of tropical plants that surrounds it. A motorcycle’s parked diagonally across the concrete entryway. Clint comes from around back to greet me, wants to talk outside because his wife’s dogs have run of the inside.
He takes me around back to a little hut made of fencing trellis covered in clear plastic panels. He calls it his orchid house. Flower pots hang from every possible surface.
Clint Bower: It's sort of my peaceful escape. I actually made it.
AQ: You made this?
Clint looks a bit like an actor who would play a president on TV, brushed grey white hair. He wears navy blue shorts and sandals, and a short-sleeve white button-down shirt undone an extra button to show a gold chain.
Clint isn’t trained in psychology or education, he got a bachelor's degree in business, but started working in group homes as a side job when he was in college in the eighties, now manages fifteen of them. I wanted to hear what he’d known of Arnaldo.
CB: Actually, I met him when he moved in because I remember him bringing his toys in. That's what I remember the most. His mother stacking all his toys up in a certain way in his bedroom. And, I mean, he seemed pretty cute and quiet when we first met.
He’s still trying to make sense of what happened with the North Miami police that day, how they justify the shooting.
CB: I think their whole defense is they're trying to blame Arnaldo. That if Arnaldo wouldn't have been out, they wouldn't have been forced to shoot.
The attorney for Officer Aledda, the one who shot Charles, has tried to pin the incident on the fact Arnaldo was allowed to leave Clint’s group home, MACtown.
AQ: The, the thing is, okay so I'm trying to bring logic to this, it’s like —
CB: I don't know that you can do that.
AQ: The fact that he was out in public is the issue?
CB: Well, I think that's what they're trying to imply, that he should not have been out, period. But it's not a locked facility that I run. They're able to come and go at any time they want. With staff present. Arnaldo can't just walk out and go to the store by himself, for his own safety.
This is how that tension Lydia Brown and I talked about last episode plays out in real life. The tension between keeping disabled people safe and letting them live their lives however they want.
Neither the North Miami police nor the City of North Miami would comment on what happened. But they did share with me a statement saying that after the incident all their cops now wear body cameras, have started mental health crisis sensitivity trainings, and autism training.
But Clint’s not impressed. He’d been asking the North Miami police to train their officers on developmental disabilities, to even just let him talk to the officers about autism, since 2009. Because the thing is, group homes like his also rely on police intervention.
CB: At times it's just maybe a lack of resources we deal with. Constantly every year we're trying to get additional funds to pay staff more and provide the support someone needs to live in the community. Because if we can't control someone and they become aggressive, we have to call the police to assist to Baker Act somebody.
To Baker Act somebody. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows authorities to involuntarily commit someone to a psych ward. It’s also a verb — you Baker Act someone when you use hospitals to lock them up. I might Baker Act you. You Baker Act-ed me. Group homes are Baker Act-ing their clients all the time.
CB: Because we can't just show up at an emergency room in a hospital to have somebody admitted to the psychiatric unit. Only the police can do that. If we can't safely handle somebody and we can't safely transport them in our vehicles, the only alternative we have is to call the police.
This is how Arnaldo went from group home, to psych ward, to new group home, to new psych ward in the months before he came to MACtown. And the more I did this reporting around this story, the more I realized that pattern is common for adults in residential placements across the country — they have a crisis at the place they live, and then it’s police intervention followed by involuntary commitment.
Because the community services just aren’t there. And the police and hospitals, always are.
Up until about the 1950s, there were basically two options for severely disabled people. You’re either at home with your family, with very little support, or, you’re in a state-run institution. Locked up, out of sight, out of mind.
And then 1965, the Kennedy family started calling for reform, after the experience of their sister Rosemary.
Robert F. Kennedy: I visited the State Institution for the mentally retarded, and I think that we have a situation that borders on a snake pit. And that many of the children live in filth, and that many of our fellow citizens are suffering because of lack of attention, lack of imagination, lack of adequate manpower.
Then, the country started to change its mental health system, started closing big institutions. In 1972, Geraldo Rivera ran a television exposé of New York’s Willowbrook School.
Geraldo Rivera: There was one attendant for perhaps 50 severely and profoundly retarded children. Children, lying on the floor naked and smeared with their own feces they were making a pitiful sound, a kind of mournful wail that is impossible for me to forget.
The report lead to the a new civil rights act. More institutions closed, including Willowbrook. The number of institutionalized people went down 90 percent by 1994.
But the country still held onto this idea that something needed to be done to control people with developmental or mental health disabilities.
Jennifer Mathis: That has been so baked in our disability service systems for so many years that it doesn’t go away overnight or even over years.
Jennifer Mathis heads up policy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in DC. She’s played a big role in the legal enforcement of the Americans with Disability Act.
AQ: I’m struck that that’s continued so long, that we have carried over this inclination after a system was largely discontinued 50 years ago?
JM: Thinking of people as sort of, you know, a burden or needing to be controlled or scary or — out of control. You know those attitudes don’t change that quickly.
Hence group homes using chemical restraints on Arnaldo, tying him up, enforcing a bedtime, keeping him from seeing his family. Limiting his freedoms because he’s disabled.
Another attitude that hasn’t changed — out of sight, out of mind. Even though we’ve moved people out of big institutions and into smaller, “community-based” settings, there’s still this imperative — keep “disruptive” people behind closed doors, regardless of how they’re being treated.
When someone’s out on the street, looking or acting unusual, that calls for public concern. And more often than not, a call to 911.
JM: And as long as you focus only on law enforcement, you’re gonna continue to have this problem of people having encounters with law enforcement that they never should be having in the first place if you had a functioning disability service system.
In other words, we’ve never had a fully developed, fully funded system of services to replace institutions. Never made sure disabled people have an accessible way to get things like day-to-day living support, housing, therapy, in their community. And since that never happened, cops and hospitals fill in.
JM: I think that sometimes people think that there’s some sort of magic that hospitals do that makes people all better, and you know, I think what they are equipped to do is generally try to stabilize people and usually it’s through medication management. And, I mean, they will actually physically contain people too if they are concerned that they’re dangerous but there’s not a magic bullet beyond that, it’s not like they just make people better.
So how this works in reality? Someone like Arnaldo makes people in his home or neighborhood uncomfortable, for whatever reason. Like say, going back to the scene of the shooting and shouting, Police shoot. Police shoot.
Someone like Maria Minerva on her balcony, sees him, and calls the cops. Who Baker Act Arnaldo. Take him to the local psych ward…he’s agitated, upset. The doctors see his psychiatric diagnosis, and pump him full of drugs.
There is another option here, an alternative to the police-to-hospital system, what’s called mobile crisis units. That’s where in a situation where police might get called, a mental health worker will come out to see the person in crisis. They’ll try to figure out what’s really going on, help them calm down. The idea is to keep the person out of jail or the hospital, and connect them with other services instead.
A mobile crisis unit program in Delaware has been able to do just that for 80 to 90 percent of the people they served.
Clint Bower, the MACtown CEO, was actually on a Florida committee to build crisis response teams in 2014. So was a representative from Carlton Palms. They were trying to create alternatives to Baker Act-ing developmentally disabled people.
CB: But we just got to find the funding for that.
AQ: Who would give that and why haven't they?
CB: It's all up to the legislators in the state of Florida to fund it because...it's not going to be cheap. It's probably going to be a half a million dollars a year to fund something like that.
Which might seem like a lot of money, but it’s less than point one percent of the budget the state already spends on developmental disability services.
And over the last year and a half, developmentally disabled people under Florida’s agency for persons with disabilities have been Baker Acted an average of once every six hours. That’s once every six hours the police or hospitals are filling in when Florida’s intended disability services fail.
And some families are willing to do almost anything to break this cop-to-hospital cycle. That's next on Aftereffect.
While I was in North Miami, I wanted to see the MACtown group home where the men who Arnaldo had lived with ended up. They moved the whole household and staff about a mile north after the shooting.
I wanted to go there specifically because I wanted to meet one man, Jorge Barragan. A 44-year-old autistic man who shares Arnaldo’s history of bad stuff happening with the North Miami police. He was at MACtown when Arnaldo was there. He’s been there 10 years.
I’d met with Jorge’s mom Raisa the day before. She lives in a spotless peach Spanish-style ranch home, in a housing development in Broward County.
Raisa Barragan: Yeah, that picture on the top there with my mum.
AQ: Yeah. Aw, look at you guys so glamorous.
She shows me a picture of her with Jorge.
AQ: That's Jorge in a suit.
RB: Jorge in a suit.
AQ: Aw, such a nice smile.
RB: Oh yes, yes. You see? Yeah, this was always in his favor.
AQ: He has a good head for being bald.
AQ: You know, not everybody does.
Raisa has a tasteful bob, wears a black t-shirt with cropped jeans and sneakers. She’s lived in the US for 55 years, but grew up with so many Cuban classmates in Miami’s Little Havana that she never lost her accent. Jorge’s her only child, she divorced his dad when he was 12. Since then, it’s been the two of them.
RB: Jorge is very affectionate. Jorge is very smart. You cannot hide things from Jorge. He's nonverbal. He will say things when he needs to, you know, in words. He is, you know, really good boy. Bad, when he gets upset, it's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [laughs] OK.
AQ: I notice you say, “Really good boy.” He's 44 though, right?
RB: Yes, but to me, he is my boy. He will always be. [laughs] To me. He's 44, yes. But, but I'm pretty sure your mom and your dad think you're their baby. So that's, uh, he's my baby.
Raisa’s 72. She said it was the hardest thing she ever did to send Jorge to a group home, but it was too much to have him in the house too — for years she’s also been taking care of her mom who has dementia.
When Jorge was younger, he also bounced around to different group homes, like Arnaldo. So Raisa felt a connection when she met Arnaldo’s mom Gladys. She’d seen how Gladys had made sure Arnaldo’s room was set up right with all his toys.
RB: Yes I met Gladys on a Saturday when I went to visit my son and she was also visiting Arnaldo. You know, my son used to be very aggressive and very compulsive. He's a lot better now. But I can relate to her. And we talk and I mean she was a really nice lady.
AQ: And you're also the same height.
RB: Yes we are the same height. [laughs] Yes. Are both the same height. So we get along very well.
Jorge had been Baker Acted three or four times before MACtown. His past group homes’ staff would have him committed when he acted aggressively. A month after he started at MACtown he was Baker Acted again. He wanted a staff member’s soda.
RB: And then of course the staff didn't know him. If you share with him, he will be OK. But if you grab it and take it away from him, he will go upset. And then I guess what, he never throw punches, but he will push or or slap, you know, like that. So I guess he started with that, and of course, they called the police.
It happened two more times after that — North Miami Police called on Jorge, Jorge taken to the psych ward. It got so routine Jorge started to put his hands out for cuffs automatically when he saw the cops.
And then, there was the last time. 2011. A new staff member had, again, a can of soda. She didn’t want to share. There was shoving —
RB: And then of course after that, I mean, he grabbed her by the head I think and I mean hell broke loose. She says she swears that the neighbors called the police. I'm pretty sure she called the police. OK. And I don't blame her. She was alone.
Another staff member showed up, sent Jorge to his room, Jorge calmed down. But thirty minutes later, the North Miami police came. The staff tried to say the problem was over, but the cops still wanted to speak with him.
RB: So of course, I'm pretty sure they knocked on the door.
AQ: And they know he's disabled.
RB: Of course, that's a group home. They know, they have been there many times.
AQ: Why do they want to see him? Because they think he's done something criminal?
RB: I don't know. Or maybe they wanted to make sure that he was OK. But, to him it was scary. It was the police. They think they're going to take him because he's been there before. So he opened the door. But then, according to them, he like he tried to push them. Of course, he's afraid — he wants them to go. OK. He doesn't want to deal with them.
When Jorge pushed, one of the cops used his taser.
RB: And thank God that he fell in the bed not on the floor, because they didn't have carpet. They had tile.
The group home called Raisa, she rushed over.
RB: I get to the hospital, he's still handcuffed. You know they have him facing down.
AQ: Facing down, handcuffed on the bed.
RB: Facing down, handcuffed to the bed and the three policemen is there and I go, 'What the heck? Why are you still have him cuffed? He’s okay!’ I told them already that, ‘You know he's okay.’ And then they took the handcuff and then when they turned him around I almost fainted. His shirt was full of blood. He was full of blood.
They’d tasered him twice, so much that it burnt holes in his chest.
Jorge is now on a lot of medications. Anti-psychotics. Mood stabilizers. Seroquel. Depakote. Atenolol. Raisa says they make a difference. Jorge hasn’t had a police incident since the tasers. But five years later, it was Arnaldo. And Raisa, thinks he should be on more medications too.
RB: The day that I spoke to his mom that I met her. She told me that, “No, I don't want him to take too many medications.” I said, ‘Well, he needs it.’
Raisa says it’s not that she wants her son on so many medications.
RB: I know it’s going to shorten his life. You know it's not, he's not, my son is not going to live to be 70 or 80, probably not. Because these medications, one way or another, they damage your liver, they damage these... But I want him to be as normal as possible. I want him to live a normal, more of a normal life. And if it takes to have medication, yes.
AQ: I'm so struck because that seems, that seems really complicated. Like I think there's an argument to be made — I'm sure that the medications make him less himself.
RB: Well, they do and they don't. Ok? Why I want him to be more himself and be aggressive and unhappy and in — and be in danger all the time. To him or others? Why? So he takes all these medications. But he can go out, he can come home, that he loves. He comes here every week every two weeks for dinner. We take him to Denny's or we cook. He's been fine for a long time with no, no behavior's .
AQ: I feel like I can't comment because I don't know, I don't. I don't understand. But it seems hard that if, like, say if I was having severe depression and it was getting in the way of me living my life, first thing I would, I would take medication for that, I want to live my life. But it seems hard because Jorge doesn't get to make that choice
RB: Of course. But then since he can't make that choice, I'm there.
AQ: Do you think, do you think the medication keeps him safe from things like what happened to Arnaldo?
RB: Yes. Yes for sure.
I pulled up at the MACtown group home that’s replaced the one Arnaldo was in. It’s where Jorge is now. It’s the kind of weedy suburb where around the corner there’s a black hen pecking in the grass beside the road.
Clint Bower, the head of MACtown joined me, to respect clients’ privacy, I didn’t record. A staff member let us in. Inside the beige tile floors smell just-washed. In the living room, there’s an abuse hotline number printed on light blue paper on every wall, and cameras Clint just installed.
We walk down the hall of the house to Jorge’s room. It’s bright yellow and filled with as many pictures of his family as Raisa’s living room. Right away, we see the door’s been torn off its hinges. By another roommate, the staff member explains, who’s being held at the hospital. And on the bed is Jorge, in a grey t-shirt and black sweatpants. Jorge, who in his regiment of medication no longer has behaviors that get him sent to the hospital, no longer has police called on him, and instead is spending his time post-breakfast, fast asleep.
It might seem like there’s no winning here. But Arnaldo’s mom Gladys still believes in a world where Arnaldo, fully being Arnaldo, not drugged up, doesn’t get the police called on him. So much so that she’s lawyered up. A few days after the shooting with Charles, she called Matthew Dietz, he specializes in disability rights law.
His office was another stop in Miami. It’s in a seventies-style cinderblock building raised on stilts, you park underneath.
It’s an open floor plan, the administrative assistant sits me down in the partitioned-off waiting area. I see a dog and a few other people walking in back. And then, Matthew Dietz comes to meet me. He’s fresh off the phone, frazzled. Tells me — “We’re actually having an Arnaldo crisis.”
Matthew Dietz: I heard about it yesterday. Gladys went to see him, and Arnaldo shaved off his hair. And when he has a one-on-one, it mystifies us to how he was able to get a razor, and shave off his hair.
Gladys had found blood on his clothes, a scraped elbow. She had no idea what had hurt him. And the staff at Carlton Palms wouldn’t answer her.
I’d heard about the terrible history of Carlton Palms, but I was really hoping it would be different for Arnaldo. I had to go back there and check in on him. How bad can it be?
That’s next time on Aftereffect.
Aftereffect by Only Human is a podcast from WNYC Studios.
Aftereffect is reported by me, Audrey Quinn, and edited by Ben Adair. Additional reporting from Aneri Pattani. Production help from Phoebe Wang.
Cayce Means is our technical director with engineering help from Matt Boynton and Jared Paul.
Hannis Brown is our composer.
Our team of talented reporter-producers includes Christopher Johnson, Mary Harris, Amanda Aronczyk, and Christopher Werth. With help from Margot Slade.
Michelle Harris is our fact checker. Our interns are Kaitlin Sullivan and Nicolle Galteland.
Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News.
Support for WNYC’s health coverage is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation.
Thanks also to the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.