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Police Mistreatment of Deaf

A Suspect


Updated January 14, 2011

Updated January 14, 2011
"Larry Smith" believed his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were violated by the police who arrested him. Although the incident happened in the year 1993, the ADA was already in effect at the time, so it has relevance for the deaf and hard of hearing community even today.

Before reading Smith's account, readers may wish to familiarize themselves with the legal rights of deaf and hard of hearing people under the ADA, especially with regard to law enforcement:

In addition, here are archived articles about similar situations:

  • Rosen vs. Montgomery County - The 1997 case of a deaf man who was stopped for driving under the influence, whose request for an interpreter was allegedly ignored.

Summary of Smith's Experience:

  • October 12, 1993 - was in unlocked office building looking for a friend, bumped into cleaning crew. Crew asked to see what was in his bag (computer tools)and he refused.
  • Later that day, police searched his house. No interpreter present.
  • Two days later, more police came and searched. Again no interpreter.
  • About 2 weeks later, the police tell him there have been computer equipment thefts in the area.
  • The next morning, the police, thinking he knows about the thefts, demand details. He finds out he has been formally charged with theft.
  • A few weeks later, he was arrested. No interpreter. Released.
  • In arraignment court the next day, no interpreter. Got another court date.
  • Before next court date, requested an interpreter. No interpreter provided by time of hearing. Case continued.
  • On day of next hearing - no interpreter.
  • Got information on legal rights from National Center on Law and Deafness regarding interpreters in law enforcement.
  • By the Spring, he was assigned to a "diversion" program and had to work with a caseworker.
  • The last time he was in court the following Spring, there was no interpreter. Diversion was considered complete and charges dropped.
  • An interpreter was provided only once throughout the entire case.
  • He had difficulty finding employment because of this.
Comments can be posted about the case at: Violated or Not

Smith's Complete Story

Tuesday, October 12, 1993, I was in an office building, looking for a friend that I thought worked there. The building was unlocked and open, with no signs stating business hours or whatever, except for a business listing inside the door. I was looking around, including the 3rd floor office area, which was also unlocked and open, when I bumped into one of the 3 people on the cleaning crew. I then came across all 3, one of whom requested to see what was in my blue bag, and I told them it was computer tools, but refused to let them see what was in it. When they asked who I was, I gave them my first and middle name. I left in my car, and noticed one of the crew behind me. I had no interest in any of the equipment in the office, except for looking for my friend.

I arrived home, and about an hour later, I heard my dog barking downstairs, and noticed someone was at the door. I answer the door, to find a county police officer there, who asked who I was, why I was out at the building, and to put my dog away. I do that, and find that he's come inside the house. I told him about my hearing problem, that I need to see what he says (lipreading), and the reason why I was at the building. He then says "let's go upstairs" and we do that. Upon arrival in my room, he sees my 4 computers, and asks if I have receipts for all the equipment. I tell him that I have for at least some of it, and that I get the rest at hamfests, swapmeets, trades, and friends. He says my 386 looks like one at the office building, and I tell him that it is different because I built it. He then goes on me about why I was there and to give him the equipment that I had supposedly taken. I told him why I was there and that I had nothing to give him, and he keeps going on me on this. He smiles every now and then throughout the whole process. What was he smiling about? At one point, he says I was seen carrying a bag. I misunderstand him, thinking he said I was seen carrying a box, and told him I had a box in storage. I said "Carrying a box? What box? I have no box. I have a box in storage." Things started going downhill, and it was getting harder for me to understand him (harassment and search warrants mentioned).

I have no chance to talk about anything else except for what went on out at the office building. I have no chance to really defend myself. He knew the difficulties I was having with communications, yet did not make it easier.

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