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Friday, September 9, 2016

Commonwealth's attorney: Police not criminally culpable in Gianelos' death

Fairfax County Police officers “committed no wrongdoing” in the death of Paul Gianelos, reported Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh in a ruling released by the Fairfax County Police Department Sept. 8.

Gianelos, a 45-year-old Annandale resident with autism and an intellectual disability, had wandered away from his caretakers April 20 during an outing at Roundtree Park.

Police found Gianelos near 3105 Annandale Road and attempted to return him to the caretakers. He struggled with the officers, experienced a medical emergency while in police custody, and was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The FCPD Internal Affairs Bureau has also determined the four police officers involved in the incident “were in compliance with all rules, laws, regulations, and training.” Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. arranged for the officers “to return to full duty status.”

The four officers – Master Police Officer Michael Meszaros, Private First Class Hyun Chang, PFC Courtney Young, and Officer Jessica Kenna, all from the Mason Police District – had been on administrative leave.

Gianelos lived in a group home on Queen Elizabeth Boulevard and had a history of running away. The outing on April 20 was supervised by St. Johns Community Services. When he ran off, each of the two caretakers on the outing thought he was with the other one, according to Morrogh’s report.

Meszaros, a patrol officer, was the first to arrive on the scene after a caretaker called 911. Gianelos became agitated, and Meszaros got him to calm down but then Gianelos became agitated again and began pulling the officer down the street.

Meszaros didn’t know Gianelos, who weighed 220 pounds, was legally blind. Morrogh’s report quotes Meszaros as saying, “that guy was stronger than anything I’ve encountered in 26 years. I mean, that guy was strong.”

At that point, Chang arrived, and the two officers attempted to escort Gianelos to Chang’s unmarked cruiser. “Because of his disabilities, Mr. Gianelos couldn’t understand the situation and began resisting and pulling away toward Arlington Boulevard.”

The officers were worried that Gianelos would run into traffic and get hit by a car. “PFC Chang, realizing that they were being overpowered, made the determination that Mr. Gianelos had to be taken to the ground for his own safety and so that the officers could get control of him,” the report states. All three of them ended up on the ground, and Chang landed on top of Gianelos.

Gianelos didn’t understand what was happening and continued to resist, spitting and attempting to bite Chang’s hand as he was being held down. Meszaros managed to place a cuff on Gianelos’ wrist. At that point, Young and Kenna arrived.

A witness told Internal Affairs investigators that he saw the officers trying to hold someone down who was “kicking and swinging his arms.”

Young got another handcuff on Gianelos, and Chang put pressure on Gianelos’ shoulder in an attempt to control him, resulting in what the medical examiner later determined was a minor injury. The officers noticed an abrasion and blood on Gianelos’ face where he had been rubbing it on the ground so they called a rescue unit.

As they waited for the unit to arrive, they observed that Gianelos was breathing, but “his color did not look right,” and there was drool or foam coming from his mouth.

Firefighter Paramedic Technician Stephanie White found Gianelos had no pulse and was not breathing and began to perform CPR. Other medics performed various procedures on the way to the hospital. Efforts to revive Gianelos in the emergency room failed and he was pronounced dead.

After performing an autopsy on April 21, Dr. Jocelyn Posthumus, the assistant chief medical examiner, determined the death was accidental and the cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia associated with police restraint.” She said the physical findings “were consistent with the statements of the officers involved in this incident.”

The officers who responded to the scene “were faced with a difficult situation,” Morrogh’s report states. “They had limited information concerning Mr. Gianelos’ medical and mental condition other than he was a critical missing person with mental health issues.”

Meszaros, who had been trained in crisis intervention, “treated Mr. Gianelos with kindness and empathy, holding his hands and attempting to communicate with him.” Chang’s decision to take Gianelos to the ground “was not unreasonable given Mr. Gianelos’ strength and his proximity to a busy street,” the report continues.“The officers did not strike Mr. Gianelos nor did they employ any choke holds or weapons.”

They “did not intend to hurt Mr. Gianelos, did not act with malice, nor did they act recklessly with a callous disregard for Mr. Gianelos’ life,” Morrogh concludes. “While tragic and profoundly sad, Mr. Gianelos’ death was accidental. In my legal opinion, none of the police officers are criminally culpable for his death.”

1 comment:

  1. I've followed this story via several media sources since it broke and have to say how sorry I am for everyone involved. I understand that the people charged with Paul Gianelos' care were doing the best they could under the circumstances, and that the police probably meant no harm. Even so, I can't escape the feeling that this encounter could’ve had a better resolution.

    I teach preschoolers with autism and pray that none of my students' lives end like Paul's. I see clearly how hard it is for many people to understand them and believe that everyone (not just those directly related to people on the spectrum) could benefit from learning more about ASD. For starters, people people with autism have unique skills, needs, and interests, just like the rest of us. If they do harm or engage in dangerous behavior, it's not necessarily born of malevolent intent and a heavy-handed response may only make things worse for everyone. It's easy to jump to conclusions about a person who can't or doesn't talk, and it's very easy for those conclusions to be wrong.

    If you have questions about autism or related conditions, please seek information from a reliable source, such as:

    Autism Society of America

    Parents of Autistic Children (POAC)

    Autism Resource Center (ARC)