Militarization, Force & Interactions with Disabled Persons

In September, we filed suit on behalf of a Delaware couple subjected to the unlawful and excessive use of force by the Delaware State Police as the result of a perfect storm of bad policing. Our clients are a quadriplegic, Lisa Hayes, who failed to stand up when the police told her to, and her disabled veteran husband Ruther, who was mistreated when he begged the police, who had entered their bedroom at 6 a.m., to let him cover her partially naked body. Lisa, Ruther and their two children had spent the night at the Claymont home of Lisa’s 82-year-old mother to facilitate their attending an early morning ice skating event at the University of Delaware.

The pre-dawn raid was conducted on the home by the Delaware State Police and the state’s Special Operations Response Team (S.O.R.T.)—a team created to counter domestic terrorism—because two of Lisa’s nephews were suspected of drug crimes. The police arrived in an armored personnel carrier, broke in the front door and spread through the house pointing military weapons at the inhabitants. The two nephews were arrested without resistance. They were not drug lords. According to the police report, items found were eleven pills (mostly prescription-required medication) and “drug paraphernalia,” such as plastic baggies. One of the nephews was charged with   misdemeanor drug charges only, and the other not at all. The one charge placed against Ruther, resisting arrest, was dropped.

Lisa was taken to the hospital following the raid and released after a few hours. Ruther was arrested and taken to the State Police barracks in Bear. When he was released, he had no money, no identification and no telephone, so he walked the 20 miles back to Claymont.

We have been concerned for some time about the militarization of local police. They receive military training and equipment from the federal government, purportedly for use in dealing with domestic terrorists, and then, since they have it, use it in minor criminal matters. We have also been concerned about the way that police deal with disabled people. Officers’ misinterpretation or misunderstanding of a disability during an interaction too frequently results in disabled people being treated as criminals. Finally, we have been concerned about the many complaints we receive describing the use of excessive and unlawful force by the police. This suit presents all three of those deficiencies in police behavior in stark relief.

In addition to fair compensation for the victims, the suit seeks:

  • the creation of new DSP policies and procedures—such as training, and adequate officer supervision—to provide for robust and proper internal affairs investigations
  • discipline, training and counseling of officers deemed necessary to prevent further instances of excessive force, improper use of Tasers, discrimination against disabled persons and other police misconduct
  • an enforcement mechanism that will allow the public to determine whether appropriate remedial measures have been taken