On May 16, 2009, New Jersey State Troopers were searching for two burglary suspects and stopped a vehicle which turned out to be the wrong car. 21-year-old James Bayless was sitting in the passenger side of the vehicle when he was ordered to step out of the car. As a Traumatic Brain Injury patient, his response was delayed and the officer deemed it as much too slow. An eyewitness stated that she saw Bayless, who was now handcuffed, dragged out of the vehicle by two officers, thrown to the ground and punched in the face repeatedly by the officers.
The two cases would have received little scrutiny had they not been videotaped. Legislators, like Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, would like to take action to prevent such events from happening in the future.
Interestingly, a few years ago former Assemblyman Fred Scalera sponsored a bill that would require first responders to be trained to deal with people with mental and behavioural disorders. Often, such individuals have communication deficits that make it difficult to respond to verbal commands. In the case of Bayliss and Holloway, they were punished because of their disabilities.
Tragically, being disabled may be a punishable offense in New Jersey!
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law.