Parents question police restraint tactics used on mentally disabled son

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- The parents of a mentally challenged man are thankful Omaha Police got him out of harm’s way, but they were shocked to see their son battered and bruised.

He loves watching football with his parents but 48-year-old Kenny Wee lives in a group home.

“Seven-year-old mental age is about where Kenny would come in,” said Larry Wee, his father.

A week ago Saturday, as a staff member drove him back to the group home, Kenny rolled down the window. The door was locked from the inside, so Kenny reach around and opened the door from the outside, forcing the driver to stop. Kenny got out on the Dodge expressway, his intent was to go back to his parents’ house.

An Omaha Police Officer then confronted Kenny.

Kenny’s father asked him, “Why did you want to get away from him?”

Kenny replied, “I didn’t like what he was doing to me. Trying to choke me. I couldn’t breathe. I was scared.”

Kenny admits that he acted out.

“I just tell him to leave me alone,” said Kenny. Kenny also shakes his head yes when asked if he then bit the officer.

A group home supervisor arrived on the scene and provided 6 On Your Side with a written account. She saw Kenny face down on the ground, an officer restraining one arm behind Kenny’s back, and the officer had his other arm around Kenny’s neck.

Both Kenny and the officer struggled, according to a witness.

The witness says, the officer hit the side of Kenny’s head with a closed fist.

“I had my face turned,” said Kenny.

Larry asked, “Then he popped you?”

“Ah hum,” said Kenny.

The witness states, “I yelled sir please stop hitting him he has a disability.” The witness claims the officer responded, “He spit on me and bit me, he assaulted an officer.”

According to Kenny’s stepmother, Lori Wee, the officer claimed he was bitten but she says that a lot of staff get bitten but they don’t retaliate.

Other officers arrived and Kenny was cuffed and put in a cruiser, he hasn’t been charged.

“I think they could have talked to Kenny and talked him down without having to go to the physical,” said Larry.

Deputy Police Chief Scott Gray sent the following statement:

    The Chief and I are aware of Mr. McKnight's concerns about the incident from September 14th. A citizen complaint has been filed by Mr. Wee's father and this incident is currently under investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit. Therefore, we cannot comment specifically about the facts of this incident at this time.

    Regarding his question about how OPD generally handles people like Mr. Wee, it largely falls to what information, if any, the officer has about the individual prior to contact. In addition, the citizen's actions, any hazards, or other information critical to the safety of all involved must be evaluated in a short time frame. OPD has increased the number of officers that are Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained to over 23% of the sworn employee total.

    We have recently hired a Mental Health Coordinator and are working to hire Mental Health Co-responders for all five precincts. All of these measures are part of our concerted effort to train our officers to properly respond to individuals in crisis.

“The officers claimed they had no knowledge that he had any special needs so there’s a communication breakdown that they didn’t have the information so Kenny because really vulnerable in these situations and can get really hurt and he did get hurt, Lori said.

The group home supervisor and witness states it appeared officers didn’t know about Kenny’s autism and mental illness even though she says she reported that to 911 before arriving on-scene.

Kenny was treated and released. Despite what happened Kenny’s parents don’t want him to fear the police.

“We’ve always told you what about the policeman,” asked Larry to Kenny.

Kenny answered, “They try to help you.”

6 On Your Side has requested the 911 tapes but they can’t be released because of the internal affairs investigation. The communications director says the call from the group home driver wasn’t clear that police would be dealing with a mentally disabled man. A second call a few minutes later from the group home supervisor is being reviewed.