NYC Coalition Sues Mayor for failing to provide safe, non-police response to New Yorkers in MH Crisis

(January 2, 2022) Courtesy Harvey Rosenthal, NYAPRS

Coalition Sues Mayor de Blasio for Failing to Provide a Safe, Non-Police Response to New Yorkers Experiencing Mental Health Crises

A broad coalition of public interest groups and people with mental disabilities filed a class action lawsuit today against the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea for violating New Yorkers’ constitutional and civil rights by sending police officers — rather than trained health professionals and peers with lived mental health experience — to respond to thousands of mental health crises each year. The case challenges the legality and constitutionality of the City’s policies, which have resulted in unlawful detentions, excessive force, serious injuries, forced hospitalizations, and 19 deaths of people with disabilities at the hands of the police in the last six years alone.

At the core of the lawsuit is the New York City policy of assigning police officers to respond to mental health crises. 

The plaintiffs include people who were arrested simply for having a mental health diagnosis – or even just being perceived as having a mental health diagnosis – and who were not a harm to themselves or others, but were nevertheless forcibly strapped to gurneys or otherwise restrained and taken against their will to a hospital. The lawsuit requests that the court require the City to replace its harmful policies with ones that ensure the safety of people experiencing mental health crises.

“Mental health crises are not matters for law enforcement; they are healthcare issues that must be appropriately handled by health professionals, rather than police, whose involvement routinely causes more trauma,” said Marinda van Dalen, an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, one of the civil rights groups that filed the suit. “These entrenched, misguided, unconstitutional policies have resulted in the deaths of numerous people experiencing mental health crises – the majority of whom are Black or other people of color – at the hands of police in New York City. Many others have been injured or involuntarily hospitalized, despite committing no crime.”

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