(CN) – Maryland police officers did not violate a deaf man’s rights by handcuffing his hands behind his back while investigating claims of domestic violence, the 4th Circuit ruled.
Robert Seremeth, who was ultimately not charged with a crime, had argued the officers should have cuffed his hands in front of him so that he could communicate during the investigation with written notes.
A Maryland federal judge had previously granted summary judgment to the officers, finding no violation of the accommodation requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Seremeth appealed, seeking a jury trial on his claims.
Seremeth, who is deaf and lives with his deaf parents and his four children, had an argument with a daughter and told her she was not allowed to use the family videophone to call her mother, Dawn Rood.
After the daughter ran away from home, Seremeth found her and brought her back, where she did in fact call her mother on the videophone. Claiming that she saw Seremeth strike the daughter during this call, Rood called the Fredrick County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies had been called to Seremeth’s Middletown, Md., home on at least three or four other occasions to investigate domestic violence claims, so the dispatcher was well-acquainted with the family and their situation.
Upon their arrival at Seremeth’s home, officers shined their flashlights to get the family’s attention. They then handcuffed Seremeth’s wrists behind his back, forcing him to kneel outside on a cement walkway. This, one of the deputies testified, was standard procedure for a domestic-violence call.
But Seremeth argued that this hold prevented him from writing notes or signing, and therefore prevented him from even asking why he was being detained. About 45 minutes after his detention, an officer gave him a note explaining that an interpreter was being called to the scene, Seremeth said.
The interpreter allegedly arrived carrying a sign language course book, and her skill level prevented Seremeth from communicating effectively with the deputies. As a result of the incident, Seremeth said he’s suffered ongoing emotional issues and persistent anger.
A three-judge appellate panel sitting in Richmond, Va., was unmoved.
“While it is undisputed that Seremeth has a disability and is a ‘qualified individual,’ the question remains whether the county’s criminal investigation is covered by the ADA,” Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the court. “If so, we must ask whether he was discriminated against because of a lack of ‘reasonable accommodation’ for his disability.”
Although the court held that Seremeth had established a legitimate injury – the inability to communicate – and that the ADA applies to the investigation of criminal conduct in this case, Gregory said ultimately the deputies’ conduct was reasonable under the circumstances.
“We find that due to the exigencies inherent in responding to a domestic violence situation, no further accommodations were required than the ones made by the deputies,” the 14-page decision states.
“What constitutes reasonable accommodations during a police investigation for a domestic disturbance is a question of fact and will vary according to the circumstances,” Gregory added. “We are reluctant to question the snap judgments of law enforcement officials in situations in which a reasonable officer would fear for his safety and for the safety of those he is charged to protect.”