Man with autism handcuffed by police in case of mistaken identity

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 3:33 AM EST
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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WTKR) - A Virginia father is still trying to understand how police made the mistake of detaining and handcuffing his adult son, who has autism, in a shoplifting case.

Kashif Eaton Sr. says his son, Kashif Eaton Jr., went to a 7-Eleven to pick up a few groceries Saturday morning in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After 40 minutes, the single father began to worry. His adult son is on the autism spectrum.

“He always comes home, so I knew it had to be something serious,” the older Eaton said.

Kashif Eaton Jr., left, was mistakenly detained and handcuffed by police in relation to a...
Kashif Eaton Jr., left, was mistakenly detained and handcuffed by police in relation to a shoplifting case while at 7-Eleven. The man is on the autism spectrum, and his father, right, says the incident has negatively affected him.(Source: Eaton Family, WTKR via CNN)

The father says he then received a call from police, saying they had his son in custody for shoplifting. He rushed to the store, just minutes away, and by the time he got there, his son was already released from custody.

“My son has never done anything. He’s never stole, and it’s just preposterous,” the older Eaton said. “I’m just not understanding how they make that mistake. I don’t get it.”

Police say a store clerk identified the younger Eaton, but once officers checked surveillance footage, they realized they had detained the wrong man.

The older Eaton says explaining the situation to his son has been difficult because he has autism. He says because of the incident, his son may have a negative reaction when he sees police in the future.

“He was very angry, very upset, and he didn’t understand what happened... He was telling me, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong, so why are they putting me in handcuffs?’” the father said.

The Virginia Beach Police Department released a statement about the incident:

“Officers detained the individual, as they were conducting a criminal investigation. Officers determined very quickly that the person detained was not the suspect in question and released him. Each investigation is different, and there are times when the use of handcuffs are necessary for safety reasons.”

The department says all of its officers have received training on autism.

The older Eaton says this is the second time his son has been detained and later released, the first time being in 2019 when he was deemed suspicious while riding his bike to work.

The father thinks the public doesn’t understand how to handle people on the autism spectrum.

“There’s a lot of people who have no clue what is or how to treat it or how to treat the people who have it,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2020 that 1 in 54 people are born with autism.

Organizations like the Autism Society of Tidewater help raise awareness about the autism community, including working with law enforcement and first responders.

Vice President Alfred Howard says sometimes people mistake common traits in individuals with autism, such as lack of eye contact or avoidance, as suspicious behavior. He adds that acceptance is key.

“It’s important for our community to be aware and to receive these individuals and bring them into our communities and fully embrace them because they are part of our communities,” he said.

For the older Eaton, he just wants this situation to never happen again.

“As a single parent, I can’t have anything happen to my son. I don’t have anybody else to rely on,” he said.

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