Former Dolton police officer who used Taser on teen with autism disputes firing

Samantha Chatman Image
Friday, February 9, 2024
Dolton officer who used Taser on boy with autism disputes firing
Former Dolton police officer Leslie Johnson admits he got the wrong person when he Tased a 14-year-old boy with autism in his own back yard, but said he shouldn't have been fired.

DOLTON, Ill. (WLS) -- A former Dolton police officer who was seen on bodycam video using a Taser on a 14-year-old boy with autism spoke exclusively with ABC7 Eyewitness News to dispute the department's decision to fire him.

Avairus Thompson's parents told the I-Team their son was returning home from the grocery store when a Dolton police officer mistook him for someone else and used a Taser on him in his own back yard.

A Dolton police officer was caught on camera using a Taser on Avarius Thompson, who has autism, in a case of mistaken identity, his attorney said.

But former officer Leslie Johnson said he should not have been fired for the incident. He said he is the officer on the video and admits they got the wrong person. He said he feels terrible about what happened, but also said he should not have lost his job over the incident.

"At the time, I didn't know he was a boy. And I didn't know that he was disabled or autistic. I didn't know any of those things at the time," Johnson said. "But people have vilified me and made me out to look like a monster and I have been fired from my job just because of the way people view it and that hurts me."

READ MORE: Dolton officer uses Taser on boy with autism in case of mistaken identity, attorney says

Johnson was fired by the Dolton Police Department Wednesday after the incident garnered national attention.

On November 20, 2023 Dolton police were called to help Riverdale police, who were searching for four Black men with guns.

"Upon arriving to the area, we seen several subjects running-We observed two offenders that fit the description, continued to run from us. I gave orders a couple of times to stop. Just continued running," Johnson said.

Johnson said he saw the subjects again near a back yard, and pursued Thompson. He used his Taser on Thompson twice in what we now know was Thompson's own back yard.

Johnson said as he understands it now, it was a case of mistaken identity.

"Yes it is. We were later informed by Riverdale police that it was not him," he said.

Thompson's parents said their son suffered a fractured hip and is traumatized by what happens.

Johnson did not know Thompson has autism.

"That's heartbreaking to me. When I learned that, that made me feel terrible because I have autistic people in my family," he said through tears. "What still goes through my mind is the look on his face. That hurt."

Johnson said he stands by his decision to use a Taser as a less lethal option. He said he followed protocol and should not have been fired.

"All this time goes by and you're telling me don't worry about it. We looked into it. You're good. Everything's okay. And then all the sudden after that story airs on the news, now you want to take some kind of action and make me out to be the bad guy. I won't stand for that," he said.

Johnson said he hopes Thompson and his family can find it in their hearts to not view him as a bad officer or person.

"They say that when you apologize for something, it makes you guilty, but it doesn't make you guilty if you learned after the fact that it was a mistake," he said through tears. "So what's wrong with an apology? I've been told you shouldn't apologize. Even if it was a mistake, you apologize for a mistake."

The Village of Dolton told the I-team, "After a thorough investigation of the facts regarding this matter, the officer in question was relieved of his duty in accordance with rules and regulations of the Village of Dolton police department. The incident occurred during the officer's probationary period."

Johnson was with the department for about three months, and said the probationary period is a year and a half.

Dolton said the Taser incident is still under review by Dolton police and the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Taskforce, and Mayor Henyard is looking forward to review the findings of the investigation once it's completed.

Former officer Johnson said he's considering taking legal action against the village.