Man Denied Interpreter in Jail Can Press Claims

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A deaf man who claims he was denied access to a sign language interpreter while in custody can pursue civil claims against his jailers, a federal judge ruled.
     Abreham Zemedagegehu, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ethiopia, cannot hear or speak, nor can he read or write English with any proficiency. Consequently, he can only communicate effectively by American Sign Language.
     In a complaint first filed in February in the Alexandria Federal Court, he says he was looking for a warm place to sleep when police officers arrested him at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Feb. 3, 2014.
     Zemedagegehu claims that during his booking process, jail staff dismissed his requests for an ASL interpreter and stymied his attempts at communication during a video conference with a judge by forcing him to sit still.
     “The judge on the monitor appeared to be speaking to Mr. Zemedagegehu, but he could not understand what the judge was saying,” the complaint says. “Mr. Zemedagegehu does not know what occurred during that interaction.”
     Zemedagegehu says did not know why he had been arrested, and it was not until his arraignment that he learned he had been accused of stealing an iPad.
     While in custody, he says, he was asked to sign a waiver for routine medical evaluation, which he declined as he was unable to read it. “Jail personnel then forced a needle into Plaintiff’s arm without his consent and placed him in isolation,” U.S. District Judge James Cacheris wrote in his opinion.
     Zemedagegehu had a negative skin reaction to the forced medical procedure and underwent an additional medical procedure, but still did not understand what was happening, Cacheris continued.
     Zemedagegehu also alleges that during his six-week incarceration he was deprived of meals, telephone communication and access to his court-appointed attorney.
     In his April 28 ruling, Judge Cacheris held that by denying him access to counsel and preventing him from testifying during video conference, jail staff jeopardized Zemedagegehu‘s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and denied Sheriff Elizabeth Arthur’s motion to invoke sovereign immunity from the charges against her, although in ruling on a separate motion, the judge dismissed the state defendants from the lawsuit.
     Arthur is being sued for compensatory damages in her official capacity as Arlington County Sheriff for violating the Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation acts.
     “In short, Plaintiff’s allegations, if true, demonstrate that Defendants wholly failed to accommodate Plaintiff’s disability as required by Title II and the associated regulations,” Cacheris concluded.
     Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

%d bloggers like this: