Are police actions restricted by the federal ADA law?

Some of our readers may find it surprising that this Carlsbad blog dedicated to employment law is addressing the topic of how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies outside of the labor setting. Indeed, many readers might never have even considered if the ADA applies to how police interact with suspects with disabilities.

Because of that, and because interactions with police can be part of everyday life, we figure it might be of some interest. At the very least, the matter seems to highlight that to counter discrimination in the workplace and all other areas of life is an ongoing struggle.

The question posed in the blog’s headline is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. This week, the justices in Washington heard the case of a mentally ill San Francisco woman seeking the right to sue the city.

The 56-year-old woman was shot five times in an encounter with police back in 2008. It happened in her private room at a group home for disabled adults. According to court documents, police were called in by a social worker who said the woman had threatened him with a knife.

The woman reportedly also threatened officers when they first entered her room, so they left and called for additional support. But a short time later, and before backup arrived, they broke down the door and re-entered the room. The officers said they feared she might have other weapons or escape out a window. They claimed she came at them again with the knife, and when pepper spray didn’t stop her, they shot her.

Her suit claims police violated her rights because they entered her room without a warrant. It also says that police tactics and procedures failed to reflect reasonable accommodation of the woman’s mental disability as required by the ADA.

That second claim is apparently what prompted the Supreme Court to accept the case, so it could weigh in on whether and when ADA provisions might cover police actions. But during arguments, comments from the justices suggested there may be less of a question than first thought. Several of them noted that even the attorney for the city agreed police are bound by the ADA, sometimes. The question might be where that line is?

We can only wait to see if the court sets the line or sends the case back down for trial.

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