RIP Ryan Gainer: Here’s Everything We Know About California Police Killing Autistic Black Teen

RIP Ryan Gainer: Here’s Everything We Know About California Police Killing Autistic Black Teen

More details are emerging about the death of 15-year-old Ryan Gainer. On Saturday afternoon, Gainer, an autistic Black teenager, was shot and killed in Apple Valley, California, by police after he brandished a long gardening tool at authorities.

According to a press release published by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, at around 4:48 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, 2024, deputies from the Apple Valley Police Department rushed to a home located in the 13400 block of Iroquois Road following an urgent 911 call. The call, made by relatives, reported that Ryan was actively assaulting family members and causing property damage at the residence.

Ryan Gainer was 15, had autism, and was shot and killed by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department because he was holding a garden tool.
Murdering a 15 year old autistic Black boy, experiencing a crisis, is enraging and another example of a rotten system that must be dismantled.

— Mebsi (@MebsiLFC19) March 13, 2024

Shortly after at 4:54 p.m., the first deputy arrived at the scene and was met by Gainer, who was armed with a garden tool approximately five feet long, featuring a sharp blade at one end. In a sudden and unprovoked manner, Gainer raised the bladed end of the tool and charged toward the deputy, body cam video footage of the incident revealed. The deputy retreated as Gainer pursued, allegedly attempting to assault him with the bladed end of the tool. The situation escalated into a lethal force encounter, resulting in Gainer being struck by gunfire. Deputies swiftly administered medical assistance to Gainer and continued until paramedics arrived, the press release stated. Gainer was then transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he tragically succumbed to his injuries.

Lawyer claims Apple Valley police failed to render medical aid to the autistic teen.

Following the incident, detectives from the Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division arrived at the scene and took over the investigation.

During an interview with People, DeWitt M. Lacy, the Gainer family’s attorney, confirmed that Ryan was holding a hula hoe — a sharp steel blade used to cut weeds and leaves — when he was tragically shot by police.  Lacy said that the autistic teen “experienced some type of upsetting of his normal routine because he needed to do his chores.” According to the legal aid, the intense situation had already “calmed” when Apple Valley officers arrived at the scene. 

“Sometimes with autistic teens, or are those similarly situated, it might cause them to be very angry. They might yell and or disrupt property, which is what happened here, and it was the source of the 911 call,” Lacy shared. “Ryan had even been apologetic about being so enraged and apologized for breaking up a window.” 

The lawyer challenged the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office’s press release, alleging that the officers who shot Gainer did not promptly provide medical assistance. Lacy claimed authorities waited up to 10 minutes after the incident to call for medical help.

“Instead of rendering life-saving aid after two adult armed police officers shot and wounded Ryan… laying in his driveway bleeding, they did not give him aid,” alleged Lacy. “They stopped neighbors from giving aid. They stopped the family from giving aid. And they held everybody at bay.”

Around 10 minutes later, “another deputy arrived on the scene and began life saving efforts, CPR. But by then it was too late. Ryan had already choked on the vomit that was in his throat. And that’s why he died,” Lacy added.

Gainer’s death sparked outrage on social media, with many calling out the Apple Valley officers involved for taking the 15-year-old’s life. Some said Gainer could have been subdued without gunfire.

I refuse to normalize the killing of Black youth. Ryan Gainer deserved to live a full life. No amount of trainings can undo the anti-black racist foundations of our police force. Nor are they equipped to address the needs of our community members living with disabilities.

— Julissa Muñiz, Ph.D. (@JulissaMuniz13) March 13, 2024

Ryan Gainer was 15
He was autistic.
Like many autistic kids he had a moment where emotions got the better of him.
He had a gardening tool on him.
The San Bernardino sheriff decided the proper response was to execute Ryan on the spot.
When will it stop

— Pan-African Tiger Woods (@wordisbond) March 11, 2024

In a surprising statement, San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner, Shannon Dicus, admitted that the “social safety net for those experiencing mental illness” needed to be “strengthened.”

 “Our deputies handle seemingly insurmountable calls daily. Most of these calls do not end in violence,” the San Bernardino County official penned.

— Shannon Dicus (@SheriffDicus) March 11, 2024

“However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family, and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split second decisions. While these decisions are lawful, they are awful in terms of our humanity. I feel for both Ryan’s family and my deputies who will struggle with this for their entire lives,” Dicus added.


It’s crucial for police to learn how to handle individuals with autism and other people who may struggle with mental health disabilities during episodes.

It can prevent unnecessary escalation of situations that could lead to harm for both the individual and officers involved. Proper training enables officers to recognize the signs of mental distress and respond with empathy and understanding, rather than resorting to force or aggression. It promotes the protection of the individual’s rights and dignity, ensuring they receive appropriate care and support instead of being treated as criminals. Sadly, law enforcement’s lack of care and compassion when encountering autistic individuals and people with mental disabilities is becoming a critical problem in the U.S. and leading to unnecessary violence.

Gainer’s death comes three years after the passing of Osaze Osagie, a Black college student  that was fatally shot by a white State College officer in 2019 after he experienced a mental health crisis at his apartment, according to State College Magazine. 

Sylvester Osagie, Osaze’s father, called the State College Police Department after he received a suicidal text from his son. Three officers went to Osaze’s apartment with a 302 warrant, which would’ve given them permission to take the college student to the emergency room for mental health treatment and hospitalization. 

According to the police, when Osaze opened the door, he was holding a steak knife with a 5-inch blade. Despite repeated commands to drop the knife, Osaze purportedly responded with the words “shoot me.” Subsequently, he allegedly retreated back into the apartment before allegedly charging at the officers with the knife, described in the District Attorney’s report as running “as fast as a person can run.”

Officer No. 2 discharged his taser in an attempt to control the situation, but it failed to  subdue Osaze. Simultaneously, Officer No. 1, stumbling backward while attempting to retreat, fired four shots from his pistol, three of which struck the autistic student.

The incident, the first fatal police shooting in the department’s history, stirred profound outrage within the community. The outcry for change was centered on the complex intersection of policing methods, mental health advocacy, and racial equality.

Sylvester said he was “reluctant” to call the police on his son. “I was reluctant to call them initially because I was concerned that something like that might happen,” the grieving father told State College Magazine. “But in the end you really don’t have any choice but to get the police involved.”


Black individuals often face negative consequences for calling 911 due to systemic biases and prejudices within law enforcement and emergency response systems.

Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that Black people are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, leading to heightened fears of police brutality or discriminatory treatment when seeking assistance.

A 2020 Harvard study found that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police during an encounter than their white counterparts. Consequently, Black individuals may hesitate to contact emergency services out of concern for their safety or fear of facing unjust repercussions. This reluctance stems from historical and ongoing racial injustices, including racial profiling, police violence, and disparities in the criminal justice system, which contribute to a lack of trust in law enforcement among Black communities.

Something needs to change.


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