SEATTLE (AP) — The police department in Vancouver, Washington, has agreed to improve services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing as part of a settlement reached Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department.
Federal authorities became involved after receiving a complaint from a deaf woman who said she was denied services that would allow her to communicate with and understand officers during her arrest and interrogation.
Officers knew she was deaf when they responded to the call that led to her arrest, but they did not bring a sign language interpreter. Instead, she said, police required her minor daughter to act as an interpreter.
Further, the woman had her hands cuffed behind her during her transport to jail, preventing her from communicating at all.
In the settlement the Vancouver Police Department agreed to pay the woman $30,000 and to update its policies and procedures to make sure those who are deaf or hard of hearing can effectively communicate and receive equal access to services in their encounters with Vancouver police.
The woman is identified only by her initials, E.H., in the settlement documents, which also did not detail the reasons for her arrest. However, the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle noted that the investigation further revealed that Vancouver police failed to provide a qualified interpreter to the alleged victim of the incident, who is also deaf.
“Law enforcement encounters are some of the most high-stakes and personally significant moments a person can experience,” Tessa Gorman, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, said in a statement. "It is critically important that individuals be able to effectively communicate in these moments – both to provide information to the police and to receive information about their rights.”
The settlement notes that the Vancouver Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation. Under the deal's terms, the department will provide the U.S. Attorney's Office with draft policy revisions improve communication with those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The department agreed to modify its restraint and handcuffing policy so that detainees who are deaf or hard of hearing can communicate using American Sign Language or in writing by having their hands in front of their bodies.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor the department’s compliance with the settlement for the next two years.