Disabled Man Files Lawsuit against Police
By Gerri Elder
A man in South Florida who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, neurological problems and speech and memory disorders has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City of Greenacres alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution and battery by the police.
Because of the disorders that Peter Ballance has, many of which are widely misunderstood, he wears a badge indicating that he records conversations in order to help him remember things and so that he can work on his stuttering and social interaction problems. By recording his interactions with other people, Ballance is able to refresh his memory about events and evaluate his progress in dealing with social situations.
Ballance says that because of his disabilities and the fact that he records conversations, the police have refused to speak with him and denied him police protection. He says that in 2006 someone was driving around his neighborhood threatening children and when the police responded, they refused to talk to Balance but spoke to other neighbors about the problem. He believes they may have refused to talk with him because of an incident a year earlier.
In 2005 the Greenacres police noticed that Ballance had parked his vehicle in a grassy area across the street from his home so that it would be out of the way while he changed the oil on his other vehicle. Ballance says that he and other neighbors had parked vehicles there for years without any problems. However, no parking signs had recently been put up and on this occasion the police began to write Ballance a parking ticket.
One of the officers at the scene recognized Ballance from an interaction a few days earlier and told him that he would have to turn off his audio recorder. Ballance refused. At that point the police threw Ballance to the ground and handcuffed him, causing injury to his wrists which started to bleed. Ballance's teenage son recorded the incident on video. Last year a jury found him not guilty of resisting arrest without violence, according to a report by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Ballance serves on two local boards for people with disabilities. In his personal injury lawsuit, he seeks a declaratory judgment that could benefit all of the people with disabilities in Florida. He claims that by denying services to him because of his disability and refusing to make reasonable accommodations for him, the City of Greenacres has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ballance and his ACLU lawyer claim that because of his disabilities, he requires the use of the recording device for assistance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal law requiring state and local governments to make reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities have equal access. Balance and his lawyer say that this has not been done for him. The police appear to be standing behind a Florida law which prohibits audio recordings of people who have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
However, Ballance's personal injury lawyer from the ACLU says that police and other public officials have no reasonable expectation of privacy. The ACLU is pressing for a change in the law that would specify that citizens are entitled to make recordings of police and public officials.