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Friday, August 5, 2016

Gianelos death ruled an accident

The death of Paul Gianelos has been ruled an accident by the Fairfax County Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Fairfax County Department Police Department reported Aug. 5.

Gianelos died in police custody Aug. 20 following a struggle. The severely autistic man had been on an outing at Round Tree Park when he wandered away from his caretaker.

The autopsy report states the cause of death is “cardiac arrhythmia associated with police restraint” and says, “manner of death: accident.”

According to the FCPD, police offers from the Mason Police District found Gianelos a mile away from the park on Annandale Road and attempted to engage him in conversation while trying to reunite him with the caregiver. Gianelos became “physically combative with the officer and a struggle ensued,” and he was “taken to the ground and handcuffed.”

He sustained an abrasion, then when medical personnel arrived, he “experienced an apparent medical emergency.” He was given CPR and transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died a short time later.

At the time, advocates for the disabled told the Annandale Blog the situation could have been handled better.


  1. This is so tragic and so preventable. No one should have to die from anything "associated with police restraint." Especially someone who probably did not understand what was happening to him. Heartbreaking.

    1. If you know it was so preventable why don't you explain how it could have prevented. If you can not say with 100% cetainty how you could have prevented it then how can you say it was "so preventable". The Officers did not go out that day saying "I hope someone dies because I put them in handcuffs or I am going to give an autistic person a hard time today." Anyone who is going to put their lives on the line to try and save mine has my support.

    2. Why is the burden of proof on the police? They were there.

      They should be able to prove "with 100% certainty" either that it was an accident or that they had no choice but to assault and choke him.

    3. I've been following this incident closely since April. I teach students with autism/Asperger's syndrome, and I have friends, a co-worker, and a nephew with autism/Asperger's syndrome. I can tell you that some officers know how to approach and interact with someone on the spectrum but many, many do not.

      Based on all of that and what I've read, I can tell you this with a fair amount of confidence: the officer working with Gianelos likely mismanaged (however intentionally it may have been) the interaction and responded with unnecessary aggression/intensity; the arrival and actions of the back-up officers further escalated the distress that Gianelos (who had been abused by police in the past) was experiencing, and the whole calamity triggered the heart attack.

      Since he did not die of actual wounds inflicted, and he may or may not have had any sort of heart condition to begin with, there will be nothing anyone can do. The only good that can possibly come of this is for all officers everywhere to be educated about autism and trained in techniques that will help them deal with people on the autism spectrum in ways that will be much less likely to set up tragedies like this.

      In the meantime, people like me will continue to advocate for that sort of thing. Anyone else who wants to learn more can check out resources and information available at sites for organizations such as the Autism Society of America, Autism Risk and Safety Management, and the Autism Self-Advocacy Network.

    4. correction: UN-intentionally mismanaged the interaction...