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Police use pepper spray and Taser to subdue combative teen; mother says she told officer her son has autism

Police use pepper spray and Taser to subdue combative teen; mother says she told officer her son has autism
LAPD officers demonstrate Tasers and other technologies in this March 2, 2016 Los Angeles Times photo. (Spencer Bakalar / Los Angeles Times)

Police used pepper spray and a Taser on a 16-year-old boy who became combative, punching an officer's head and body, during a traffic stop Friday, authorities said.

When reached Wednesday evening, the boy's mother said through tears that she repeatedly warned the officer that her son was autistic while apologizing for his unresponsiveness.

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According to Burbank police, the officer stopped the woman just before 4:30 p.m. near Burbank Boulevard and Hollywood Way after noticing the front passenger, the teenage boy, was not wearing a seatbelt.

The teen told the officer that he forgot to put it on, while his mother, the driver, said she was in a rush to get somewhere, police said.

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During the stop, the teen began to argue with his mother and the officer, at one point indicating that he wanted to fight the officer "hand-to-hand," said Burbank Police Sgt. Claudio Losacco.

Tawnya Nevarez, the boy's mother, said Wednesday that during the stop, she asked the officer to step back so she could calm her son down, but the officer would not move.

According to police, the officer, who's been with the department for four years, explained that everyone is required to wear a seatbelt.

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After the boy interrupted him with "inflammatory dialogue," the officer decided to "deescalate" the situation by returning the driver's license to the mother with a warning instead of a citation, Losacco said.

The officer then asked the teenager to put his seatbelt on. He reportedly responded that he would only do so when the officer walked away. When the officer stepped back, the boy put on his seatbelt.

According to police, sometime after the boy put his seatbelt on, he removed it and told the officer he was going to "fight him right now," kicking the car door open into the officer's knees. He then reportedly dared the officer to call for backup while his mother tried to keep him in the car.

Eventually he got out of the car, police said, took off his sweatshirt and approached the officer in a fighting stance, telling the officer to pepper spray him.

The officer used pepper spray, but it didn't have an effect on the teenager, who then punched the officer multiple times, knocking off his glasses, Losacco said.

At that point, the officer shot him with a Taser and handcuffed him.

Nevarez said that her 14-year-old daughter was also pepper-sprayed, and her 3-year-old niece was also in the car. She referred all other questions about the incident to her attorney, who was not immediately available for comment.

After the boy was medically cleared at a local hospital, he was admitted to a mental health facility, police said.

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Juvenile detectives are investigating the incident, which was captured on the officer's audio recorder.

The agency's critical incident review board will also review the officer's conduct — a routine for all uses of force.

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Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @atchek

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