Deaf suspect denied interpreter leads to $30K settlement from police department


A Minnesota police department paid $30,000 to resolve a complaint over how a deaf interview subject was handled by officers.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights says Alan Read was not given proper access to interpreter resources during a May 2013 interview with Oakdale police.

According to the complaint filed with the Human Rights department:

Read, after being given a written copy of the Miranda Rights, asked for an interpreter (either his sister, or someone through a service) to help during the interview process, because he wasn't confident in his writing skills.

An officer reached out to his sister, who put the officer in touch with an interpreter service. Yet half an hour later, Read was told no interpreters were available.

Officers also implied that a report had to be filed by the end of that day, which wasn't accurate.

The Human Rights department issued a "probable cause finding" of disability discrimination, which the $30,000 fine will settle.

The police department will also have to update its policies and training so staff understand the resources available, plus designate a deaf and hard-of-hearing coordinator. Training was a problem, the Department of Human Rights noted, saying in part the department "did not have a policy and its officers did not have training on how to interact with deaf suspects."

On its website, the Oakdale PD says it will "provide Auxiliary Aids and Services at no cost" to ensure communication with deaf individuals is clear.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act says public services (such as the police) have to accommodate people with disabilities, though there is a qualification for requests that are unreasonable.

Read ultimately pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, WCCO says.

Police officers and the deaf

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says two or three out of every 1,000 babies born has a "detectable level" of hearing loss in one or both ears. And about 15 percent of adult Americans say they have at least some trouble hearing.

And advocates say there can easily be confusion with law enforcement who may not realize someone they're dealing with is hard of hearing.

The National Association of the Deaf says police are required to provide services to the deaf to make sure things are being communicated clearly.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a specific page dedicated to helping deaf people navigate law enforcement. They've called on the U.S. Department of Justice to provide proper training for police departments, and also have a video that instructs deaf people on best practices if they're pulled over by a police officer. The ACLU says there have been cases of cops, who don't realize a suspect can't hear them, unnecessarily using physical force.

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