CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fatal Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Hostage-Taker Did Not Violate ADA

Police officers did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they fatally shot a mentally ill hostage-taker, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held Feb. 12 (Waller v. Danville, Va., 4th Cir., No. 07-2099, 2/12/09).

The decedent's sister argued that the officers did not face exigent circumstances because they waited two hours before taking action. She also contended that they should have reasonably accommodated his disability by not banging on the door and yelling at the decedent, but instead calling mental health professionals, contacting his family members, or seeking to administer medications to him.

But Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, while stopping short of recognizing an “exigent circumstances” exception to ADA liability, said that the officers' reasonable belief “ ‘that this was a potentially violent hostage situation' … cannot help but inform” the ADA inquiry. He further concluded that the accommodations proposed by the sister were unreasonable, while the steps taken by the officers—including speaking with their supervisors, deploying a hostage negotiator, and attempting to calm the situation by waiting at least two hours before entering the premises—were reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, and thus satisfied any ADA duty of accommodation.

The Danville, Va., police received a 911 call at 9:23 p.m. on May 10, 2002, from a woman who said that she feared for her friend, whom she had not been able to reach for two days. The woman said her friend had a live-in boyfriend whom she described as a “mental patient” who had been “in and out of the hospital.”

‘Got Something for You.'

The police went to the boyfriend's apartment. He refused to let them in. The girlfriend called from inside that she was OK but that her boyfriend would not let her come to the door. The boyfriend told the police to leave him alone, and added, “If you come in here, I've got something for you,” leading the supervisor to think he had a weapon.

Checking with headquarters, the supervisor learned that the boyfriend had prior arrests for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and assaulting the girlfriend, and had indeed been in and out of mental institutions.

The police sent an experienced hostage negotiator to talk to the boyfriend, who yelled at the officer, “I'm going to blow your goddamned head off.” The police then ceased negotiation attempts and sent in an emergency response team. When the boyfriend came toward them in the apartment, swinging what appeared to be a scythe and brandishing what looked like a knife, three officers shot and killed him.
The decedent's sister, personally and as administrator of his estate, sued the city, alleging in part violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. She alleged that the city had discriminated against the decedent on the basis of his disability by unlawfully arresting him, using excessive force, and failing properly train officers properly in dealing with the disabled.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Mentally Ill | Permalink

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