Police kill transgender man with Asperger’s who gained fame from video with service dog

MESA, Ariz. -- Police in a Phoenix suburb shot and killed a knife-wielding woman whose struggles with Asperger's syndrome went viral last year when she posted an online video showing her service dog comforting her.

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Two officers responding to a report of a suicidal woman were carrying stun guns but fired their weapons because they felt threatened as Danielle Jacobs, 24, lunged at them with a 12-inch kitchen knife in her home Thursday, Mesa Detective Esteban Flores said.

"They had a lethal weapon coming at them," Flores said Friday. "They were threatened."

Although police used her legal name, the Arizona Republic reported Friday night that she was hoping to transition from female to male and was known to friends as Kayden Clarke.

The newspaper reported that those who knew Jacobs as Clarke said Clarke was burdened by the combination of trying to transition, the Asperger's and other health issues. "He was frustrated that no matter what therapist he saw, no one understood and neglected his desire for health and happiness," said Kae Glenn, a friend of Clarke who is a transgender man, in a Facebook message to the Republic.

Jacobs' 2015 video showed her sobbing and striking herself while her dog tries to calm her down by approaching her and raising its paws. Her description of the video said it showed what it's like to have Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism in which people are highly intelligent but lack social skills and have narrow, sometimes obsessive, interests.

"She was trying to share the struggles some people with Asperger's go through and to try to take the stigma away," said Heather Allen, the founder of HALO Animal Rescue, a Phoenix-area organization where Jacobs had volunteered since she was 13.

"I also think she wanted to show what a dog can do to help people with a condition like hers," Allen added.

Allen said she called police Thursday to ask that they check on Jacobs after the 24-year-old sent a suicidal email that morning asking that someone care for her dog, Sampson.

Allen questioned whether it was necessary to shoot Jacobs.

"I wasn't there, so I don't know how she was behaving," Allen said. "I wish they had been able to use non-lethal restraint, if they could have used a Taser or a beanbag gun.

"She didn't have a gun. She had a knife," Allen said. "It just seems to me there could have been a better way."

One of the officers responding to the call was retrieving a bean bag gun when the shooting occurred, Flores said. Two officers stayed in the apartment, including one who had training in crisis intervention to deal with such situations.

Police refused to say how many shots were fired or identify the officers, who have been placed on desk duty as Mesa detectives investigate the shooting. The results of the investigation will be forwarded to the county prosecutor's office. Flores said the officers were not wearing body cameras.

It is the second time this year that Mesa police have been accused of using excessive force.

An officer killed an unarmed man at a hotel last month after responding to complaints about someone in his room with a gun. The only weapons police found were pellet guns that the 26-year-old victim used for his pest-control business.


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