Edmonton

Parents of autistic teen arrested by Alberta RCMP call for charges, improved training

The parents of a non-verbal, autistic teenager arrested at a St. Albert playground say the officers involved should face repercussions for the harms their son suffered in custody.

Crown declined to prosecute officers following police watchdog investigation

A woman and man pose in front of the camera.
Laura Hawthorne and Aaron Krause say their son, Ryley Bauman, remains traumatized by his encounter with RCMP. The autistic teenager was arrested and detained by officers in October 2022. (David Bajer/CBC)

Ryley Bauman takes his stuffed Grover doll and pulls the toy's blue hands together before binding them tightly with string.

It's a troubling habit for the autistic 18-year-old, one that began after he was arrested in October 2022 at a St. Albert playground and then detained in an RCMP holding cell where five officers kneeled on him as paramedics administered a sedative.

Laura Hawthorne says her son — who is non-verbal and functions at the age of seven year-old — remains traumatized by his time in custody. He continues to relive the ordeal by "arresting" his favourite toys.

"He always wants us to rescue them," Hawthorne said. "He always brings them to me, and then he wants me to untie them and say, 'It's OK' and to hug them and to hold them." 

Ryley's parents still have questions about how RCMP justified their son's arrest and new doubts about the strength of the systems intended to hold police accountable.

They're calling for increased transparency in investigations into officer conduct, improved disability awareness training for RCMP, and for the officers who arrested their son to face prosecution.

An investigation report from Alberta's police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, released March 27, found that the arresting officers mistakenly identified Ryley as a known drug user and mistook the teen's neurodivergence for intoxication.

In its report, ASIRT said charges of unlawful confinement and assault could be considered against the officers for detaining the teen without proper grounds and for the use of force during his arrest.

There were "reasonable grounds to believe that an offence may have been committed by the subject officers," ASIRT concluded.

ASIRT referred the matter to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service for an opinion on whether charges should be laid. The Crown said the case did not meet the standard for prosecution.

An internal RCMP investigation into the arrest is complete. The officers remain on active duty.

A woman with red hair speaks to a teenage boy whose face cannot be seen.
Ryley Bauman and his mother, Laura Hawthorne, at a playground, weeks after his arrest in St. Albert. (David Bajer/CBC)

Aaron Krause said his son can't forget what happened. Handcuffing his toys is one way that Ryley's trauma and lingering confusion continue to surface.

Ryley, who was 16 at the time of the arrest, now suffers from chronic anxiety and regular panic attacks. He is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. 

He is too afraid to play alone and can no longer visit his grandparents' home near the playground where he was arrested.

The sight of a person in uniform or a passing police vehicle can make him scream, Krause said.

WATCH | Ryley's parents say he can't forget what happened to him:

Autistic teen still traumatized by arrest on playground, parents say

1 month ago
Duration 3:12
Laura Hawthorne and Aaron Krause are seeking accountability from RCMP and the justice system. Their son Ryley, who is non-verbal, was arrested in October 2022 at a St. Albert playground and then detained in an RCMP holding cell where five officers kneeled on him as paramedics administered a sedative.

A recent outing at a bowling alley ended in panic, Krause said. When a security guard walked by, Ryley fell to the floor yelling and put his hands behind his back.

"Police hurts" has become a common refrain for the teen, his father said.

Neither parent expects their son will ever recover. 

"He doesn't forget anything," Krause said.

"His memories, they'll play on a loop. They don't go away.

"He'll replay it. And I think what hurts me the most is that he will do that and he'll ask me why.  And I have no good answer for him."

Details revealed in the ASIRT report angered Ryley's parents.

The arresting officer told ASIRT investigators that he would have arrested anyone who was behaving the way Ryley was that day, and that the teen's actions made people in the park afraid.

'Lifelong damage' 

Ryley's parents say police endangered their son by kneeling on him, and by allowing him to hit his head against a partition inside the police vehicle. He also hit his head against the door of the holding cell at the St. Albert RCMP detachment.

Hawthorne said all RCMP officers should be trained in how to deal with people who have autism or other disabilities. She said social workers should be dispatched to all calls involving welfare checks.

"You teach your children from the time they are tiny, if you are in trouble, go to the badge, go to someone in uniform, they will keep you safe," she said. "And now it's just fear."

A boy in a grey shirt sits at a table with a plate of pasta in front of him.
Ryley Bauman was arrested in October 2022 when police were called to a playground in St. Albert, Alta. An investigation found officers wrongfully identified the autistic teen as a known drug user. (Laura Hawethorne)

In a statement to CBC, Alberta RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Troy Savinkoff declined to comment on disciplinary actions the arresting officers may have faced, citing the RCMP Act.

Savinkoff said all St. Albert officers have taken autism training since Ryley's arrest. 

Autism Edmonton, which offers services and supports to autistic people and their families, provided the training at the detachment's request. 

Melinda Noyes, executive director of Autism Edmonton, said it's frustrating to see Ryley's case closed.

She said autistic people can be more vulnerable to negative encounters with police.

The case speaks to the importance of increased awareness among first responders and the broader community to guard against the kind of harmful assumptions that led to Ryley's arrest, Noyes said. 

"It is our hope as an organization that these incidents don't happen again, and I think from a preventative standpoint, going forward, that education is the key," she said. 

"It's unfortunate that it takes an incident like this to be the catalyst."

The parents of an autistic teenager arrested by RCMP in St. Albert in 2022 are calling for better training for police. Last month, the Crown declined to prosecute the officers involved, following a watchdog investigation. Aaron Krause and Laura Hawthorne join us in studio.

Ryley's parents are talking to a lawyer about a possible lawsuit. They have asked the Crown to reverse course and be more transparent with families when charges against police are called for but never pursued.

"That is our plea, that the Crown take into account everything that has transpired from this and to consider the lifelong damage this has caused," she said.

"There needs to be accountability so that it doesn't happen again."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.