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Disabled Face Discrimination And Injury With Law Enforcement

A 19-year-old disabled cancer patient has to celebrate her last day of treatment in the police station after airport security turned violent when she accidentally set the metal detector alarm off.

Hannah Cohen and her mother were at the Memphis International Airport in June of 2015 on their way back to Chattanooga after completing Cohen’s cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Cohen accidentally set off the security metal detector in the airport and security officers pulled her aside to conduct a personal search because of her disability. Cohen’s mother tried to warn the officers about her daughter’s brain tumor and resulting mental disabilities, but the officers failed to heed the warning.

When Cohen, confused and scared, tried to get away from the officers they turned violent and slammed her to the ground, causing her to hit her head and bleed. The officers ordered additional screening for Cohen, but Cohen was too confused and scared to comply. The officers arrested her and booked her into jail for 24 hours, but dropped the charges the next day.

Cohen’s mother is asking for $100,000 in damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering as well as medical expenses. Cohen’s mother says her daughter was discriminated against for her disability.

Cohen and her mother have been traveling to treatments at St. Jude’s Hospital for over 17 years. They had never experienced an incident before.

These days, law enforcement are often the first to respond to situations involving disabled individuals, but the officers are rarely trained to properly deal with disabilities. The behavior of disabled individuals can be quickly misinterpreted by law enforcement who mistake the individuals to be dangerous or violent.

One study by the disability rights non-profit the Ruderman Family Foundation found a startling statistic: about one-third of the 1,134 police-involved deaths in 2015 involved individuals with a disability.

The distressing list of recent police-involved fatal shootings includes many disabled victims. The shootings were usually the result of misunderstanding rather than the result of violent or threatening behavior by the individuals. Laquan McDonald, a 17-year old boy who had severe mental disorders, was fatally shot sixteen times by Chicago police last summer. Freddie Grey, another fatal and controversial police shooting, had mental issues from lead poisoning as a child. John Williams was shot when he failed to drop the knife he was holding, but police later discovered he was deaf.

The study conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that basic training about mental disabilities can help law enforcement recognize the signs of a mental disorder and can help officers differentiate between a disorder and an actual physical threat. Some cities already provide this kind of training under crisis intervention team training or CIT classes. But only about 15% of all police departments have these classes.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of discrimination or misunderstanding of a disability, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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