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Lawyer for autistic teen struck by Lexington police cruiser wants videos, details released

Lexington Herald-Leader - 4/8/2021

Apr. 8—A lawyer for a 19-year-old man with autism who was struck by a Lexington police vehicle while he was having a mental health crisis blasted the Lexington Police Department for failing to release body-camera videos of the incident and a lack of transparency about what happened more than a week after the accident.

"We are tired of the lip service," said Daniel Whitley, who represents the family of Liam Long, who was struck on March 30 by a Lexington police cruiser after officers were called by a social worker to check on Long, who was having a mental health crisis and was delusional.

Long threatened officers and was holding a knife when they arrived to do a welfare check, according to police. Long then fled on foot and was struck by a police officer in a cruiser who was arriving on the scene.

Whitley said there are now differing accounts of what happened. The family has been told by police the officer was following Long, who is Black, when Long was struck.

"Why would you use a police cruiser to track a young adult who is having a mental health crisis?" Whitley said. "They need to come clean about what really happened."

The family of Long is expected to speak about the incident and the lack of transparency during Thursday night's Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting.

Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers said during a Tuesday Lexington council meeting the body-camera videos of the incident cannot be released because the incident is still under investigation. Weathers said that investigation should be completed soon. He did not want to release the video without being able to comment on what the investigation found, he told the council.

Lexington police have denied open records requests by the Lexington Herald-Leader and other media outlets for body camera footage from officers who responded to the scene.

Police denied the request to the Herald-Leader because, it said in an April 2 letter, "Prematurely releasing documentation prior to the closure of that investigation may lead to sensitive and/or intimate details becoming public. This could cause potential hazards, including but not being limited to: tainting potential witness testimony and/or making it difficult to locate cooperative witnesses for fear of retaliation."

But Whitley said to his knowledge Long faces no criminal charges.

"The only investigation is the administrative investigation into the accident," Whitley said.

Whitley said Lexington police have offered the family the opportunity to view body-camera videos. But a date has not yet been set.

Whitley said Lexington police pick and choose when to release body-camera footage. The department released body-camera footage of racial justice protesters this summer. Some of those protesters still face criminal charges and were under investigation at the time police released those videos.

"They release videos when they want to look like victims," Whitley said.

Last summer, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton appointed a Racial Justice and Equality Commission, which came up with more than 54 recommendations to address systematic racism in Lexington.

But Whitley said the Black community is tired of talking and studies. The police department needs to be transparent about its actions and quit treating cases involving police officers differently than those involving the public.

"We've been going through all this lip service. You have to show us action. We demand it," Whitley said. "If this was a young white man having a mental health crisis and hit by a police cruiser, would there be more transparency?"

This is the second time a Black autistic man has been involved in an incident with police in the past three years. Former Lexington Police Chaplain Donovan Stewart has been sued in federal court for allegedly striking a Black teen, who was also autistic, at Fayette Mall in 2019. Stewart has since retired and has sued racial justice protesters for defamation.

Whitley said in the Stewart case there was no body-camera footage because Stewart was working off-duty at the mall and was not assigned a body camera. In Long's case, there is video but police have not released it. Police have since purchased more body-worn cameras and require officers working off-duty to wear body cameras.

Long suffered extensive injuries. He has a brain bleed, a fractured nose and shoulder. He also has multiple contusions and scrapes, family members said. He was put on a ventilator last week but has since been able to breathe on his own.

He has since been transferred to Eastern State Hospital so medical staff there could monitor his condition. He is still having mental health issues and it's difficult for doctors to know if it is caused by the brain bleed or by his mental state, family members said. He can not stand for long periods of time.

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