March 12, 2001 Copyright 2001 LRP Publications Disability Compliance Bulletin March 12, 2001
(LOS ANGELES) -- A class action lawsuit filed in a California federal District Court last month alleges that the Los Angeles Police Department is violating the ADA and other laws by failing to ensure effective communication with individuals who have hearing impairments. The lawsuit was precipitated by alleged events concerning the department's interaction with a deaf 72-year-old retiree, who claims that officers assaulted him after he tried to use sign language to communicate with them.
According to the complaint, filed by the Western Law Center for Disability Rights in Los Angeles, police were called to the scene of an argument involving plaintiff Sanford Diamond in October 1999. Even though the responding officers recognized that Diamond has a hearing impairment, the suit says, they did not make an attempt to determine how effective communication could take place. Instead, it goes on, officers knocked Diamond to the ground when he tried to communicate with them via the use of American Sign Language, injuring his shoulders, wrist, back and face. To make matters worse, the suit says, the officers then handcuffed Diamond and arrested him for interfering with a police investigation. The officers could have enabled effective communication by using a pen and paper, written notes or interpreter services, the suit alleges.It claims that the police denied Diamond's request for a qualified sign language interpreter, and that Diamond did not even know why he was being held.
In addition to a claim under Title II of the ADA, the suit alleges violations of Section 504 and state law. Constitutional claims under the First and Fourth Amendments are included as well, as are claims of negligence, battery and false arrest. The defendants are the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD, its police chief, and six LAPD officers.
The Western Law Center for Disability Rights says that there are more than 900,000 people with hearing impairments in Los Angeles County, on whose behalf class action allegations are raised. The suit claims that the LAPD has systematically failed to maintain and enforce policies and procedures for communicating with people who have hearing impairments. LAPD officers and employees have not been properly trained on how to communicate effectively with people who have hearing impairments, it says.
The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages, attorney's fees and costs.
"Mr. Diamond's case is a classic example of the kind of overreaction to people with disabilities that we keep seeing from LAPD," said Eve L. Hill, director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights.
"Without effective communication, alleged perpetrators of crime who are deaf can't defend themselves, deaf victims of crime can't get justice, and deaf witnesses are left out of the investigation process," Hill said. "LAPD is systematically excluding an entire class of people from our justice system."
CONTACT: Eve L. Hill, Western Law Center for Disability Rights, Los Angeles, (213) 736-1195.
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