MPD sergeant ‘lends a hand,’ and gets a hug

Not every intervention resulting from a disturbance call leads to a big hug and a note of appreciation, but Sgt. Rick Lang of the Marshalltown Police Department received both earlier this summer.

“It was a good day to be a cop,” said Lang recently.

He succinctly described his actions, and those of other MPD personnel, to help a Des Moines woman and her autistic son shopping at a local business June 20.

It started with a dispatch call requesting the MPD to respond to a disturbance at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in the 200 block of North 13 Street.

“When the officers arrived, they immediately sized up what was going on,” said Lang, a 25-year veteran with the MPD. “A large young man was out of control … they immediately recognized the signs of autism … and called me … I was on my way. I have experience with this.”

Lang and spouse Teresa are parents of Sam – who is afflicted with the disease.

“We immediately went into an assist mode to help the Mollers,” said Lang.

Debra Moller was in the store with her son Cameron looking for a movie on a VHS tape.

Unfortunately, the Mollers could not find it, which resulted in Cameron becoming extremely upset and violent, “mostly at himself” said Lang.

Those with autism will respond aggressively to themselves and demonstrate in private or public, when they perceive the “normal order” of their world changed.

“The Salvation Army did a bang-up job,” said Lang. “They recognized what was going on … they just wanted to help Cameron.”

Lang and other MPD personnel escorted the Mollers to the CIH Emergency Room.

“The CIH staff did an outstanding job helping Cameron get settled down,” said Lang.

The sergeant then went on a quest to find the movie.

After several unsuccessful attempts, he stopped at the local Odds & Ends Music & Movies & Video Games business in the 100 block of West Main Street.

“They had the movie on VHS tape,” said Lang. “Those are tough to find. I told them the situation … Odds and Ends donated the movie to Cameron, and I was able to deliver it to him while he was still in the emergency room. It had gone from a violent encounter, to getting a big hug from Cameron,” said Lang. “it is a struggle for parents with autistic kids … I am glad we were able to help.”

The Mollers sent a heartfelt-thank you email to Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper.

“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for understanding the situation,” wrote Johnny Moller. “The kindness from the offices was exactly what Debra needed,”

“Dealing with autism is hard and for those officers to understand, meant the world to Debra. In our eyes, they went above and beyond the call of duty. We are both funeral directors – who have always appreciated first responders and all they do for people. Marshalltown should be proud to have great officers who understand people have different needs.”

Tupper said he asks his staff daily to “act with passion and compassion,” and used the situation to exemplify MPD’s core values.

“Sgt. Lang demonstrated our values during this incident for sure,” Tupper wrote in an email to the T-R. “Rick quietly demonstrates these values on a regular basis. Rick will likely tell you he was just doing his job. No big deal. It is a big deal. I would agree that Rick was just doing his job. The same type of job he has done for 25 years. This particular event was certainly not isolated. This is the type of work Rick, and many others at MPD perform daily.”

Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com