wheelchair, disabled man, police

Paralyzed Maryland Man Pulled From Car by Police Reflects On Law Enforcement’s Unfamiliarity with the Disabled

A Maryland man who is disabled and unable to walk was pulled out of his car on Sept. 25 by an officer who mistook him for a man wanted for a crime in the area. As MSN reports, the officer told the disabled man that he needed to get out of the car, and the disabled man informed him that he was paralyzed. Undeterred, the officer proceeded to pull the man out of the vehicle. The man’s wife, who recorded the encounter, explained to the officer that her husband was paralyzed, was unable to walk, and was a paraplegic. She also informed the officer that she was his caretaker and that he required a wheelchair.

In the video, the man can be heard asking the police officer why he was being treated this way. The man also asks the officer if he had his bodycam on before adding, “This could have been a little easier, you guys, this is f***** up.” 



According to the Police Brutality Center (PBC), the police are not equipped at all to deal with individuals living with disabilities. As a result, disabled individuals comprise anywhere from one third to one half of all people killed by the police. Differently abled people also make up the majority of high-profile use-of-force cases. In its study of media coverage of law enforcement use of force and disability from 2013-2015, the Ruderman Foundation mentions Brian Sterner, who was thrown from his wheelchair by a Tampa, Florida, officer who thought Sterner was faking his condition.

Sterner told WTSP in 2008, “This deputy … she looked at me, she didn’t believe that I was a quadriplegic, I guess, and she walked behind me with those handles on the back of that hospital-grade wheelchair and she just dumped it straight forward.”

He continued, “I told them how to pick me up and put me back in the chair, but without sensation—I don’t feel anything from my chest down—so I didn’t know they were broken then, my ribs.”

Police officers, according to the PBC, often do not have the patience and understanding that are required to interact with individuals living with disabilities and paralysis. As a result, people such as Sterner and the man in the TikTok video often face unwarranted brutality. 

A 2021 article from the Center for American Progress criticizes police for expecting compliance and for their general lack of awareness around interacting with people with disabilities.

Vilissa Thompson, who authored the article, wrote, “In addition to the use of excessive force, law enforcement have also been shown to remove or deny certain accommodations, such as a cane or wheelchair, related to individuals’ disabilities.”

As the recent video depicts, the man, who has not yet been identified, was not even allowed to have his wheelchair until after he had been yanked from his vehicle and onto the street by an officer. This, of course, illustrates Thompson’s point perfectly. Thompson also cited the inefficacy of disability-centered training programs because of their lack of uniformity, saying that “standards for these trainings are not consistent in terms of curriculum, frequency, or who is qualified to conduct them.” 

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