The Story of Stephon Watts


Who was Stephon Watts?

Stephon Edward Watts was a 15-year-old high school student who aspired to become a computer game developer.  He felt most comfortable playing games online with his friends. He learned how to read by playing online games and wanted to create virtual worlds where others could enjoy his creations. Stephon was also a young man with a disability; he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

For many years, his family struggled to find help when Stephon experienced a meltdown. The behavioral health center that provided support  for Stephon told the family that if Stephon had a sensory overload, and his calming tools were not working, they shouldn’t aggravate him any further. Instead, the center instructed the family to call 911. Unfortunately, calls to 911 brought large numbers of police, which increased Stephon’s agitation. 

On February 1, 2012, Stephon experienced another meltdown. Hoping to reduce the number of police responding, Stephon’s father called the police station directly. When the police came, they again came in large numbers. Stephon’s father knew this was not an appropriate response, and asked the police to leave. Instead, the police entered the family’s house, confronted Stephon in the middle of his meltdown, shot and killed him.

Is this the only time that involving police in a response to someone having a behavioral or neurological crisis has resulted in deadly harm?

No. Time and again, media reports the use of deadly force on people with mental health, neurodivergence, substance abuse, or other disabilities. The common denominator has been the presence of police, and the lack of presence from emergency care providers knowledgeable in crisis management. One such example was the case of Quintonio LeGrier in 2015, who was shot and killed along with Bettie Jones, a neighbor who happened to be standing nearby.