Everytime someone commits an act of violence these days — whether it’s the Orlando shooter or the would-be Trump assassin — there’s concern in the autism community that the accused and his/her lawyer/s will trot out the autism or Aspergers defense. And little wonder that so many in the autism community worry about that happening because more times than not, that’s exactly what lawyers tout as the excuse for their client’s behavior.
The most recent case is that of Michael Steven Sandford, the would-be Trump assassin who not only was in the country illegally (having overstayed his visa) but who had the presence of mind to buy not one ticket, but two tickets, to see Trump — once in Vegas and once in Phoenix (if his plan failed to go as anticipated at the Vegas event).
Michael Steven Sandford’s father, Paul Davey, claims that “someone must have coerced or radicalised” his son into attacking Donald Trump.
According to news reports, his son drove from New Jersey to California in his 2007 BMW. According to news reports, the day before the attempt, his son went to a firing range to get a feel for firing a handgun. According to news reports, his son had a ticket for the Vegas rally as well as the Phoenix rally. According to news reports, at the rally, his son approached a Secret Service agent on the pretense of getting Trump’s autograph. And according to news reports, his son tried to grab the gun from the agent’s holster so he could assassinate Trump (because he knew that everyone would be frisked upon entering the venue so weapons would be confiscated at the door).
Those are five very deliberate acts that required presence of mind and forethought.
But what else is known about this man of mystery who took a shot at infamy recently?
According to his parents, Michael Steven Sandford had fallen in love with an American girl who moved back to New Jersey. He was so lovelorn that his parents gave him money to travel to the US so he could “live closer to his girlfriend.” His mother sent him financial support as he wasn’t employed in the U.S.
His parents were at fault for enabling the situation. While it might be argued that Sanford may not have understood the intricacies of being in America with his girlfriend, his parents surely would have known there were legalities involved … especially where a visa is involved.
Surely when his visa was set to expire, they would have informed him and had him either return to England or apply for an extension of his visa. But none of the news stories indicates that his parents did anything of the sort. And surely if they wanted him encourage him to return home, his mother would have told him when her last bit of financial aid could be expected, forcing him to reconsider his vagabond lifestyle.
Sandford’s assigned public defender stated that while the unemployed Sandford hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, he has a diagnosis of autism and previously attempted suicide. And that’s where the autism community hangs its collective head in shame … because like so many times before, the autism “get out of jail free” card is going to be played with a focus on having charges dropped or stayed.
Anyone who takes the time to read the criteria for autism spectrum disorder or for Asperger Syndrome knows that violent behavior isn’t listed as a symptom of either autism or Aspergers. In other words, this is chosen behavior not diagnosis driven behavior. Already autism campaigners in the UK are tweeting about bringing the “poor lad” back home to England and away from those “horrible Americans” that are going to sentence the “boy” to ten years in jail and throw away the key.
Except that he’s not a “poor lad” and he’s not a “boy.” He was arrested, not by “horrible Americans” but by law enforcement officers following the letter of the law. But that doesn’t seem to matter to those who seem to be considering leveraging this case (as seems to have been done in the past with the Gary McKinnon case) for their own personal gain.
It’s about time autism and Asperger Syndrome stopped being used as convenient excuses for poor choices, bad behavior, and criminal activity.
Michael Steven Sandford’s lawyer asked that Sandford be placed in a halfway house on the basis that he didn’t seem to have a criminal history, he wasn’t a danger to society, and he wasn’t a flight risk. There are some who would beg to differ on this count. Michael Steven Sandford stated to the Secret Service that if he was released, he planned to go through with a second attempt on Trump’s life.
Michael Steven Sandford has been charged with one count of Act of Violence on Restricted Grounds, and was remanded in custody until his next court date on July 5, 2016.
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