Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Police Violence Against People with Mental Disabilities: The Immutable Duty Under the ADA to Reasonably Accommodate During Arrest


Carly A. Myers


This Note examines the feasibility of a police discrimination claim for individuals with mental disabilities under the ADA. Specifically, it analyzes whether Title II of the ADA requires law enforcement officers to accommodate a person's mental illness during the course of arrest, and if it does, what the proper standard is for evaluating the legality of police conduct. Part I analyzes the text and purpose of the ADA. It emphasizes the statute's broad protections and focuses on Title II, which prohibits a public entity from discriminating against an individual with a disability28 and requires "reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures."29 Part II analyzes the multiple and incongruous approaches that the U.S. Courts of Appeals have adopted to evaluate whether people with mental disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations during arrest. Section II.A analyzes the preliminary question of whether Title II applies to police conduct during arrest. Assuming that it does, Section II.B analyzes the competing standards and exceptions for evaluating whether police conduct is illegally discriminatory. It examines the wrongful arrest and reasonable accommodation theories, as well as two potential exceptions to the latter theory: exigent circumstances and direct threats. Part III proposes a solution to the circuit split. It concludes that Title II of the ADA requires reasonable accommodation during arrest for people with mental disabilities. This conclusion, supported by a majority of the circuit courts, gives effect to the plain language, broad purpose, and policy considerations of the ADA. In a departure from the majority, however, this Note also proposes limiting the scope of the exigencies and direct threat exceptions and outlines suggested modifications to the investigation and arrest of people with mental illness.