05/31/2000

Houston police to purchase devices to communicate with hearing impaired

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HOUSTON — The Houston Police Department, city jail and municipal courts have reached an agreement with the Justice Department, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agreement calls for the city to purchase devices for communicating with hearing impaired prisoners and other users of the criminal justice system.

The City will also train their staffs to use the equipment and hire a disability law coordinator.

The agreement stemmed from two lawsuits filed against the city by deaf men. One lawsuit alleged that a deaf man under arrest was unable to find out from police officers and jailers why he was arrested or where he was being taken. The other suit was filed by a prisoner who claimed that he was unable to get medical assistance in jail.

The new policy provides for training police officers how to interact with hearing impaired witnesses, victims and suspects, and requires that hearing impaired individuals under arrest be told they have the right to hearing aid devices and services at every step in the criminal justice process.

The policy also makes provision for the presence of a qualified interpreter within an hour when a deaf person is involved in a major accident, is suspected of a felony, is arrested, is given a sobriety test, or is giving a statement in a case.

The policy for municipal courts guarantees hearing aids and services to hearing impaired defendants, witnesses, jurors and spectators. Judges and court administrators will receive instruction.

Information about the new policies will be printed on court date reminders, traffic tickets, summonses, all official notices and legal periodicals.

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