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Family: Boy, 15, shot to death after attacking police had autism disorder

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 9:16 a.m. CST

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CHICAGO (MCT) — A 15-year-old boy who suffered from an autism disorder was shot and killed by police in his Calumet City home after he threatened officers and cut one of them with a knife, police and the boy's family said.

The family called police this morning after Stephon Watts, who suffered from Asperger's syndrome, became upset and did not want to go to school, said his mother Danelene Powell-Watts. Asperger's is an autism-type disorder in which a person often has normal or high intelligence, but struggles with social skills and repetitive behavior.

Police were called about 8:30 a.m. to the home in the 500 block of Forsythe Avenue, an address that was familiar with police, said Calumet City Police Chief Edward Gilmore. "This is an address that's flagged in our system as having a autistic young man there who is very strong and likes to fight with the police."

Five officers were consequently sent to the home, Gilmore told a news conference. When they arrived, the boy was in the basement, holding a kitchen knife, Gilmore said. Two of the officers went to the basement and the boy "lashed out" with the knife and struck one of them in the forearm, Gilmore said.

"At that time, cornered and having no way to retreat back up the stairs, the officers fired one shot each, striking the (boy) twice," Gilmore said. "Unfortunately, the officer thought that his life was in jeopardy."

Gilmore was uncertain of where Watts was hit, but his mother said the boy -- who stood at 5-foot-10 and weighed 220 pounds -- was shot in the head.

A report from the Lake County Coroner's office said Watts was pronounced dead ta 9:18 a.m. and his death was ruled a homicide adding he suffered a gunshot wound.

The officer who was cut was treated on the scene by paramedics, Gilmore said.

Police have been to the home 12 times since June 2010, 10 times to deal just with this boy and domestic issues involving him, Gilmore said.

The 15-year-old had wielded knives before, including barricading himself in a bathroom with a knife, prompting police to call out a negotiator, Gilmore said.

On Dec. 10, Stephon's birthday, police were called after he punched his mother in the face, Gilmore said. The boy fled his home with a knife and officers gave chase, eventually hitting him twice with Tasers.

Both officers in today's shooting are on paid administrative leave until the completion of an investigation by Illinois State Police.

All Calumet City police officers last year attended a class dealing with people with autism disorders, and all 84 have been trained to deal with them, according to Gilmore.

Stephon's family arrived at Calumet City Police headquarters before Gilmore's news conference and said they were shocked that officers had to resort to shooting the boy.

"If the policemen had never been out to the house, I can understand that because they don't know the situation," said Wayne Watts, the boy's uncle. "It seems to me they would have known how to deal with the child because they knew him. To shoot the child, to shoot him. It's just too much. He's gone ... They knew he was sick."

Powell-Watts said she had trusted that police would not hurt her son, especially because "they know he is sick and they are trained to deal with someone that is sick. 

"The way they did it, they didn't have to shoot him," Powell-Watts said.

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