Man with Down’s syndrome Shot dead in Sweden.

The title says it all really, sounds absolutely appalling doesn’t it? Eric Torell was 20 years old and had DS, Autism and associated learning disabilities. He absconded from his supported living home in Stockholm, which apparently was something he had done on a few occasions. I’ve worked with many people who will abscond, sometimes they are simply exercising their independence, and other times it’s a major risk as they are not safe without support.

In Eric’s case he wasn’t safe on his own, it is unclear what measure the home had in place to ensure his safety but in the UK there is strict rules around restraint and in many case it would be a deprivation of liberty to stop a person physically by either locking them in or holding them.

That is a big question but it’s slightly beside the point here. Recently a young man I was working with left his home in London with a toy gun, he was safely returned by police without injury, despite being a clearly odd character he doesn’t have visible disabilities like Eric. Eric also had a toy gun, it was late at night. On his adventure that night some people called the police to report a man with a gun in their neighbourhood, the police arrived. They said he was threatening with the gun and they shot him dead.

In my work and the work of many others, the modern way of thinking is to view people with disabilities as having a right to the life they choose and to have the same opportunities as anyone else, just with some extra help. We should believe in the abilities of people, they can do anything, get a job, have a relationship and indeed, commit a crime.

The consequences very rarely are the same as a non-disabled person, many times people have been let off with a lighter sentence than others but many will spend time in treatment services and secure units should the crime be serious enough. Technically, Eric never committed a crime other than maybe threatening behaviour.

What did the police see? It was the middle of the night and maybe they couldn’t see he had a disability, maybe he said he would shoot them? Should they not treat him as any other potentially harmful person? Did they shoot to kill, or was it meant to stop him but with a fatal outcome?

We may not get any answers to this, but it is hard to believe they saw this man as a dangerous criminal, particularly as no shots were fired by Eric.

Of course the police should take anyone holding a gun and being threatening seriously and should ensure their own safety too. Given the right training they could have verbally deescalated and potentially prevented harm. Fear and panic can happen to the best of us and will cause a person to make a rapid and inappropriate response at times, you just hope that the police wouldn’t.

Criminal or not, Eric needed to be regarded as different to another criminal, he had severe disabilities and most likely wasn’t fully aware of the consequences. I work with many people who need support to understand consequences in public, whether it be a crime or simply staring at a person and what could happen. This report on the case contains a quote from his mother  “It’s impossible to understand. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s the kindest person in the world,” As any protective mother would, and if that’s true and in all likeliness he was just pay acting, probably enjoys action movies or something similar. The threat from Eric was more likely perceived than real.

The response from the police feels excessive, but without being there it’s hard to say. It is shocking that anyone gets shot by police in a country like Sweden, or is it? According to this article about violent crime in Sweden it’s on a drastic and severe increase Does that make the police hyper aware and more violently reactive? I hope they analyse this case very carefully, both from the police response and the social care and support for people like Eric.

An unjust killing is always a tragedy, even more so when it’s a vulnerable person, Eric is the person the police should have looked after, not killed.


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