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Press Release

Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in Lawsuit Concerning Unnecessary Law Enforcement Responses to Mental Health Emergencies

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department today filed a statement of interest in Bread for the City v. District of Columbia, a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that the District’s reliance on police officers as the default responders to mental health emergencies violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The statement explains that the ADA requires public entities to afford people with mental health disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from emergency response systems. This may require dispatching a different type of response to mental health emergencies when appropriate, such as mobile crisis teams staffed with behavioral health professionals, to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.

“Sending mobile crisis response teams to mental health emergencies when appropriate is akin to sending EMTs to a reported heart attack,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Relying on a less effective, potentially harmful response to people experiencing mental health emergencies may deprive people with mental health disabilities of an equal opportunity to benefit from a critical public service. People with mental health disabilities must have an equal opportunity to benefit from a city’s emergency response system. We are committed to fully enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring that people with mental health disabilities are not subjected to discrimination.”

The department’s statement of interest clarifies that Title II of the ADA applies to all services, programs and activities provided or made available by public entities, including emergency response systems. Public entities must make reasonable modifications to afford people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their programs, services and activities, including dispatching a different type of response to an emergency call when necessary to avoid discrimination based on disability. The statement also addresses other arguments made by the District of Columbia concerning the claims in this case.

The Justice Department plays a central role in advancing the ADA’s goals of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. In May 2023, the Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services issued guidance for Emergency Responses to People with Behavioral Health or Other Disabilities. In addition, the department recently concluded investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, in which it found, in part, that the emergency response systems discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance. For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 (TTY 1-833-610-1264) or visit

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available at Assistance with this statement of interest provided by the Affirmative Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Unit in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Updated February 22, 2024

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 24-207