HAYS, Kan. — A Kansas police officer was justified in the fatal shooting of an autistic man who tried to wrestle away his gun, but the incident might have turned out differently if the officer had known about the man’s mental condition, an attorney for his family said.
Crafting a new law that would allow people with mental or physical disabilities to alert officers of their conditions before confrontations might help others avoid the pain Joseph “Joey” Weber’s loved ones are experiencing, Salina attorney Ken Wasserman said.
Ellis County prosecutor Thomas Drees announced this week that Hays Police Sgt. Brandon Hauptman wouldn’t face criminal charges after being confronted with deadly force on Aug. 18 when Weber grabbed the officer’s gun as Hauptman was trying to take him into custody.
Wasserman, who represents Weber’s parents, said there was nothing about Weber’s appearance that would have indicated to an officer that he had mental health issues, the Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/2dfFeur) reported.
Weber, 36, was proud of his physical condition and worked out regularly, Wasserman said. But he also was bothered by loud noises, and on the day he died, he was faced with the raised voices of police officers and patrol car sirens.
“There were a number of things that significantly added to his stress level,” Wasserman said.
The attorney and the Webers met with Hays officials on Wednesday to review investigation materials. Many of those at the meeting, including Drees, Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler and Ellis County coroner Dr. Lyle Noordhoek, agreed on the idea of Joey’s Law, Wasserman said.
The concept would be to give people the option to indicate on their vehicle registration information any mental or physical conditions or health concerns that might cause erratic behavior, he said. That way, when an officer calls in a license plate, a dispatcher could provide that information.
“I’m sure there would have been a different result if some of that information had been available to the officer,” Wasserman said. “It’s difficult to sort through, but hopefully something can come out of it that’s going to have an impact for someone else.”
The incident began around 2:30 p.m. Aug. 18 when Hauptman tried to stop a car Weber was driving because the license plate had expired, Drees said.
Weber kept driving even after Hauptman turned on his emergency lights, Drees said, and appeared to be moving objects on the front seat. Weber eventually stopped the car, got out and started running toward a house before Hauptman managed to trip him, taking both to the ground.
Hauptman, who remains on administrative leave as the Kansas Highway Patrol conducts a professional standards investigation, didn’t know Weber was running toward a home that assists people with special needs.
“There’s not an easy answer, and certainly after it’s transpired, there’s not an easy explanation,” Wasserman said.
Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com