By: Casey C. Stansbury, Esq.
Law enforcement officers encounter individuals with disabilities nearly every day. These disabilities may include people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people with epilepsy or cerebral palsy, persons with autism or Asperger’s, and persons with psychiatric difficulties. However, case law across the country has been inconsistent in determining the circumstances under which police can be held liable when dealing with a person with a mental disability. Questions frequently arise when police interact with individuals who may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The most recent United States Supreme Court case to deal with these issues is Sheehan v. the City and County of San Francisco.
In Sheehan, the Court was asked to determine whether two San Francisco police officers could be sued over their use of force when arresting a knife-wielding woman with a history of mental illness in a confrontation in which the woman was shot multiple times. In the 6-2 decision released in May of this year, the Court granted the officers qualified immunity on the Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim. However, the Court did not address whether the officers should have provided the Plaintiff with “accommodations” or taken special precautions under the ADA because of her disability.
Cases like Sheehan are extremely fact-intensive and ADA concerns merit special attention by law enforcement departments in training and development of official policies and procedures as well as consideration by officers in the field when encountering members of the public with suspected disabilities. This blog will be updated with developments in this rapidly changing area of law.
For questions or more information on “Law Enforcement and the ADA,” contact:
Casey C. Stansbury – MRR Lexington