Liability and Compliance with the ADA When Arresting, Transporting, and Jailing Persons in Wheelchairs


By Richard Lichten (Lt. Ret.)



At some point in their career, both plaintiff and defense counsel will likely become involved in a police patrol case or a jail case involving a person with a visible or invisible disability as defined in Title II of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).


A key point in cases of this nature is whether reasonable accommodations were made for the physical or mental limitations/disabilities of the individual during the investigation, arrest, transport and incarceration so that the individual suffered no greater injury or indignity than other arrestees or other prisoners.


Police and jail officers often come in contact with persons with a visible disability as with wheelchair use, or an invisible disability like deafness, or those who have an attached medical device such as a urine or colostomy bag.


Title II of the Americans with Disability Act provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” Discrimination includes, “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.” A number of court rulings have confirmed that the requirements of the ADA affect all core activities of law enforcement and established agencies’ liability when actions are found to be in violation of the ADA.


When law enforcement interacts with a disabled person, if the disabled person’s special needs are not reasonably accommodated, law enforcement runs the risk of discriminating against the individual by unintentionally injuring the person and/or causing an indignity, which may open the door to agency liability.


As a police and jail practices consultant with decades of experience in patrol and in jails, I know firsthand the challenges faced when arresting and jailing a person who is considered to be a “qualified individual with a disability” under the ADA.


Consider the questions and possible repercussions when:


- A wheelchair user is injured in the process of searching and/or transporting.


- A patrol officer or a jail officer justifiably or unjustifiably uses force on a wheelchair user and injures that person.  Of course persons in wheelchairs can be as dangerous as any non-disabled person but questions regarding reasonable accommodation and exigent circumstances will need to be addressed.


- A person with an attached medical device such as a urine bag or a colostomy bag is harmed by an officer who mishandles the attached medical device.


- A law enforcement officer uses force when the deaf suspect fails to follow verbal directions.


- An individual is mentally ill and is harmed and/or dies in custody.


Incidents like these raise questions regarding reasonable accommodations, effective communications, agency policy and procedures, officer training, compliance with ADA requirements, and other factors specific to law enforcement.


A police and jail practices expert with in-the-trenches experience and training regarding the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act I can assist counsel by examining and evaluating the actions of law enforcement personnel; the policies and procedures of the involved agency; the training, or lack of training, of the involved officers; the role of supervision; and whether the special needs of the plaintiff /defendant were met and/or accommodations were made in compliance with the ADA.




Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 42 U.S.C. § 12131

“Wheelchair: Contact and Control” Certification course, Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Las Vegas DPS, January 11-12, 2018





While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, it is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide legal advice.


About the author:


Richard Lichten (Lt. Retired) brings 30 years of front-line law enforcement experience to a wide range of police and jail topics. Twenty of his 30 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were in supervisory and command positions. Richard Lichten is deemed a qualified expert in the use of force, use of the Taser, police/jail practices, and jail/prison inmate culture in the State of California Superior Courts, State of Nevada Courts, State of Arizona Courts, State of Hawaii Courts, and in Federal Courts.


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