Cop Arrested Innocent Deaf Woman, Wouldn’t Provide Translator Because “Arrest Isn’t a Service”
Since an arrest is not a “service, program, or activity”, even if an accused person is deaf they should not be provided a sign language translator, according to a statement made by New York City prosecutors.
This is the argument that District Judge Valerie Caproni rubbished in the court case of a hearing-impaired woman, who was wrongfully arrested, never provided an interpretor and detained for 24 hours before being released without charges.
Now, New York City is paying for its officers’ tactless approach in dealing with a civilian with a genuine disability.
The victim 58-year-old Diana Williams will be compensated with $750,000 – the largest ever deaf discrimination settlement for a single person.
In response to the settlement the New York City Law Department made no other comment apart from, “settling this case was in the city’s best interest”.
How did it all start?
Four years ago on September 11, 2011 Williams and her husband went to visit one of their properties in Staten Island. They were there trying to negotiate with tenants who had not paid rent, the occupants were possibly facing eviction. One man at the premises threatened the couple, gesturing that he had a gun.
Williams’ husband Chris called 911 using a video relay service to call the police asking for help.
The fact that the call was made using special assistance should have indicated to the authorities that a sign language translator would be needed. However, when the cops arrived there was no interpretor and the men in uniform did not know sign language either.
Records show that the details from the 911 call clearly stated that a deaf family needed assistance.
Now, the couple was caught in a situation where the cops could understand the tenants’ version, but had no way of making sense of what the deaf couple was trying to communicate.
At this time, there were other people in the building who had command over sign language and they even offered to translate for Williams – the police rejected their help.
Officer Christian Romano arrested the mother of two for getting into a fight with her tenant.
What happened after the arrest?
The frightened victim hurriedly tried to scribble the word “hospital” on his police cruiser, but she only managed to write the first four letters when she was put inside a police vehicle.
Amid tears and sobs she mouthed the word “hospital” one more time.
“Help. Help. Please. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” she mimed.
That is when a police officer nodded and she felt slightly relieved that someone had understood her; however, little did she know that her nightmare had only begun.
She claims one of the cops even slapped her while she was handcuffed.
Once at the precinct Williams was made to stand for a number of hours with one arm fettered to a wall. Eventually she started hyperventilating, but even then the officers refused to acknowledge her.
From here she was taken to another precinct and on her way once again she tried to spell out the need for help on the dust of a police car. This time her pleas were heard and she was taken to the Richmond University Hospital, finally there was an interpreter available who could understand what the distraught woman was trying to say.
She asked the sympathetic translator tell the cops that she needed someone who could translate for her at the precinct. The officers, who had so far been completely cold towards her, paid no heed to the request. In fact, one of them held out his hands and signed “bullshit” to her – this is someone who refused to cooperate with her previously.
Once again, Williams found herself handcuffed and in custody. She continued to experience erratic breathing – her condition had not improved. She was taken for another hospital visit and this time the cops felt there was no need for an interpreter.
Instead, they gave her shot that knocked her out cold and she was brought back to the precinct for the third time.
For 24 hours Williams kept trying to tell the cops she needed assistance, but no one listened to her
Even when Romano filed the arrest report, he stated that that she did not have a disability of any sort.
What was happening on the outside?
On the outside Williams’ husband kept trying to offer to help situation, desperate for his wife to communicate properly with the cops.
Chris brought along a sign language interpreter to the precinct, but that offer was brushed away by the police officers who threatened to arrest him if he did not leave.
The family gave the cops written notes and texts, but those too were ignored.
Then a day later, just like that, she was released and no explanation was offered.
Following the incident Williams decided to pursue a legal course of action.
She filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department accusing them of violating her civil rights.
When the case was presented at a court in August this year, the city’s attorneys made a bizarre argument; they said that the deaf woman’s situation at the time of the arrest was not covered by the American Disabilities Act. They stated that she did not have a right to a sign language interpreter because an arrest is not a “service, program, or activity”.
Judge Caproni refused to buy this peculiar line of reasoning.
An excerpt from her decision, which allowed the lawsuit to proceed to trial, reads as follows:
“New York City takes the extraordinary position that, even though the Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 25 years, it has no obligation to provide any accommodation to the hearing-impaired at the time of an arrest, even if doing so could easily be accomplished without endangering the officers or the public safety and without interfering in the lawful execution of the officers’ duties.”
Attorneys Andrew Rozynski and Eric Baum represented Williams in court.
Referring to the incident, the pair said that their client had been at the receiving end of gross injustice that day and authorities need to recognize that deaf individuals, too, have entitlements that must be protected.
They also said that Williams is hoping the settlement will communicate this.
Unfortunately, this lesson has come at a hefty price tag, and New York City is paying for the ignorance of its officers with a whopping sum.
Perhaps, $750,000 will be enough to teach officers to exercise sympathy for disabled civilians when dealing with them.