Police Officers’ Excessive Force Can Hurt People With Disabilities

Everyone deserves to be treated fairly by the police. Both people with medical disabilities and those without medical conditions are vulnerable to police brutality. 

The government doesn’t keep statistics about police brutality against people with disabilities. However, a study from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 33-50% of people killed by police are people with disabilities.

Police officers often lack adequate training to communicate effectively with people with disabilities. Accordingly, a situation may escalate quickly due to a misunderstanding, and a person with a disability may be hurt or killed.

Types of Disabilities

Police can’t easily see some disabilities, and without proper training, this creates dangerous situations. For example, people with the following disabilities may have an increased risk of suffering police brutality injuries:

  • Hearing Loss. People who can’t hear a police officer’s instruction cannot immediately comply with the direction. Police officers may believe that the person with hearing impairment was choosing not to listen to an officer’s instruction and escalate force to get a person to comply.
  • Intellectual, Cognitive or Developmental Disabilities. People with these disabilities may not understand a police officer’s request. They may pretend to understand or become confused and upset. Yet, they may be hurt if they do not comply with an officer’s direction.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders. People on the autism spectrum may have trouble responding to the police. In September 2020, a Utah mom called the police because her 13-year-old child with Asperger’s syndrome had a mental health episode. The police shot and killed the child. Within hours, a new policy went into effect requiring police officers to attempt to de-escalate a situation before using force.
  • Mental Illness. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions can cause people to behave in unpredictable ways. Police may use force to control situations where other de-escalation efforts may be more effective and safer. In 2014, a man named Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer. According to Mr. Hamilton’s family, Mr. Hamilton suffered from schizophrenia and had recently stopped taking medication. The police found Mr. Hamilton sleeping on a park bench and attempted to frisk him. Mr. Hamilton resisted the frisk, the situation escalated, and Mr. Hamilton was shot 14 times by a police officer. That police officer did not face criminal charges for Mr. Hamilton’s death.

Other types of disabilities, such as physical conditions that prevent a person from putting their hands up or moving quickly, could also result in unnecessary police violence.

Has Your Loved One Been Hurt or Killed by a Police Officer?

You want to do right by your loved one. Whether you are helping your loved one heal or mourning your loved one’s death, you want to hold the police accountable for the unnecessary force they used on your loved one. However, you may be reluctant to talk about your loved one’s disability.

Our Wisconsin police brutality lawyers understand and respect your desire to protect your loved one’s privacy. However, if your loved one has a disability, then we encourage you to share that with us. Your loved one’s disability could be relevant to a potential police brutality claim and could help raise awareness among police departments so that other people with disabilities do not suffer similar injuries.

Hupy and Abraham secured the largest police brutality settlement in Wisconsin history. Our police brutality attorneys are committed to helping anyone who has been hurt by unreasonable and excessive police force recover fair and just damages.

We are here to help you help your loved one.

Let’s talk about your loved one’s rights and possible recovery for past and future medical costs, lost income, out-of-pocket expenses, pain, suffering, and other damages. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We would be happy to meet with you in your home, by phone, by video conference, or in our Milwaukee, Appleton, Green Bay, Madison, or Wausau office.


Jason F. Abraham
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Helping car accident and personal injury victims throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa since 1993.