ALERT: Student Sues American University for Unlawful Use of Force, Seizure and Institutionalization

Image of American University sign and text that reads "ALERT: Student Sues American University for Unlawful use of Force, Seizure and Institutionalization"

On September 26, 2019, Gianna Wheeler, an American University student, was studying when seven police officers stormed into her apartment, entered without consent, and falsely accused her of assaulting a dean and another student.

After three hours of barricading Ms. Wheeler in her apartment, the officers handcuffed Ms. Wheeler, forcibly carried her out of her apartment, and involuntarily committed her to a hospital where she was held for six days. After her release, American University would not allow her to return to campus for a month, and placed her on interim suspension for the alleged assault, for which she has since been cleared of all charges.

On Friday, we filed suit against the university, the dean of students, and several AU and MPD officers, on behalf of Ms. Wheeler, for unlawfully entering her apartment determined to commit her to a psychiatric unit against her will. These officers took these actions because of Ms. Wheeler’s race and perceived mental health status, not because of any actual threat that she posed.

“Ms. Wheeler was a 21 year-old woman who weighed 114 pounds, yet seven police officers showed up and spent hours physically detaining her against her will. The intimidation of Black people by law enforcement has traumatic, and deadly, consequences that we have seen play out across the country. The fact that AU cleared her of all charges raises the question of why this Black student with disabilities was targeted, and why her treatment was so severe.” – Kaitlin Banner, Deputy Legal Director


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