Tragically, the vulnerability of people with intellectual disabilities or mental health diagnoses to physical and emotional abuse by people in authority has been in the media lately. Following the disturbing news of George Floyd, the spotlight is also being shone on those with disabilities in similar situations.
Widely reported, recent news stories include:
- Police shot a 13-year-old boy with autism after a short chase in Salt Lake City. His mother had called for help getting him to a hospital during a mental health crisis. The shooting happened despite his mother telling the dispatcher of his disability and about specific problems the police would likely encounter, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. He survived but may have permanent injuries.
- In Aurora, Colorado, after police approached him and put him in a chokehold and EMTs administered a double dose of the anesthetic drug ketamine, 23-year-old Elijah McClain died following cardiac arrest. McClain was a petite Black man who was a massage therapist and self-taught musician – playing his violin for shelter cats to calm them. In an article by a pediatric physician, the author quotes one of McClain’s clients as describing him as having a “child-like spirit.” He was highly sensitive to light and touch and was reportedly wearing a ski mask in August because of a blood disorder that caused coldness as well as waving his arms while walking home from a convenience store. However, the article stresses that the family has not said that McClain had a mental health diagnosis or developmental disability. Still, his behavior suggests vulnerability.
- In North Carolina, a school resource officer in a school for kids with special needs handcuffed a 7-year-old boy with autism after he allegedly spit. The officer put him on his stomach on the floor, pressed his knees into the student’s back and reportedly held him down for almost 40 minutes, during which time the child cried and begged to be let go while the officer verbally abused him. The mother filed a lawsuit, alleging that the boy suffered mental health problems from the abusive treatment, according to Disability Scoop.
These types of incidents frighten and anger people who care about people with disabilities. While these examples are extreme, vulnerable Coloradans are subject to multiple kinds of abuse every day, some of them in secret. Because many with disabilities are unable to communicate, loved ones, guardians and others who care sometimes struggle to uncover the conduct.
Our clients include those with disabilities and other vulnerable adults and elders, as well as their families and loved ones, guardians and conservators, and others in protective or caring roles. We assist them in investigating signs of abuse and in seeking legal redress for resulting injuries, harm and losses.