For Deaf Woman, NYPD|Is 25 Years in the Past

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Setting back the clock before the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York City argued the “extraordinary position” that it did not need to get a deaf woman a translator before arresting her, a federal judge said.
     The scathing opinion dismisses the city’s final attempt to avert a trial in a civil rights lawsuit by Diana Williams, a 58-year-old deaf landlord from Staten Island.
     On Sept. 11, 2011, Diana and her husband Chris Williams tried to evict tenants who had fallen behind on their rent.
     Both of the Williamses are deaf, and neither of them can speak more than a few words verbally.
     When the tenant’s hearing boyfriend gestured that he had a gun, Chris called for the police using a video relay service that the couple says should have tipped off the dispatcher to send help quickly – and bring a translator, the judge’s ruling states.
     Instead, the NYPD arrived without an American Sign Language interpreter and police heard only the tenants’ side of the altercation, they say.
     U.S. District Judge Valierie Caproni called arresting officer Christopher Romano’s memory of the encounter “at best hazy.”
     “Curiously,” in the words of the judge, Romano insisted in a deposition that he spoke to Diana Williams – who cannot hear, speak English or read lips – before arresting her.
     Williams says that Romano arrested her without making any effort to communicate, and he could not understand her pleas for an ASL interpreter
     Other tenants at the scene testified that police rejected their offers to interpret for them before they brought Williams in handcuffs to the 122nd Precinct.
     Williams says that police held her for nearly 24 hours before releasing her without charges.
     She sued the city three years ago, and her most recent complaint alleged false arrest, assault and battery and other charges.
     New York City argued that an arrest did not qualify as a “service, program, or activity” that would fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     Scoffing at the argument, Caproni allowed all of the claims to proceed to trial on Wednesday.
     “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,” she wrote.
     New York City signed an agreement with the federal government in 2009 pledging to comply with the ADA’s requirements for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
     But Carol Roberson, the city’s assistant commissioner for training the NYPD on interacting with the disabled, testified during the lead-up to Williams’s trial that she had made no changes in the department’s program six years later, according to the ruling.
     “Moreover, five police officers who had some involvement in this case were deposed, and none could recall whether he had ever received any ADA-related training,” the opinion stated.
     Caproni added that it would be “preposterous to believe that given the diversity of the population in the City of New York, the NYPD did not know full well” that it would encounter deaf and hearing-impaired citizens.
     She allowed Williams to try to hold the city accountable for municipal liabilities, awarded when authorities show “deliberate indifference” to their civil rights obligations.
     The New York City Law Department said it is reviewing the decision.
     Andrew Rozynski, the co-director of the Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said in a statement that his firm was “pleased” with the ruling.
     “We hope that it will send a message to all police departments across the country that providing communication access to the deaf is critical in ensuring that their rights are protected under the law,” he said.

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