[lg policy] Oregon: Lack of Portland police, 9-1-1 policies for interpreters discriminates against people who are deaf, lawsuit alleges
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Sat Nov 17 15:51:49 UTC 2012
Lack of Portland police, 9-1-1 policies for interpreters discriminates
against people who are deaf, lawsuit alleges
Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian
on November 16, 2012 at 1:05 PM, updated November 16, 2012 at 10:06 PM
policecars.jpg In a lawsuit, Philip Wolfe alleges that he was unable
to understand Portland police officers, putting him at risk. The
A deaf Portland man who reported he was the victim of a domestic
assault said police and 9-1-1 operators failed to respond with a sign
language interpreter, hampering the police inquiry and putting him at
Philip Wolfe, 39, is suing the city of Portland in federal court,
alleging the city violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which
prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in state and
local government services.
Wolfe's allegations highlight a gaping hole in Portland Police Bureau
policy: Twenty-two years after the ADA was enacted, the bureau lacks
any protocol on how to respond to people who are hearing impaired.
Wolfe is seeking a court order requiring the city to adopt uniform
policies for police and emergency dispatchers to ensure sign language
interpreters are supplied when a deaf crime victim or witness makes a
report, requests assistance or is interviewed by police.
"During Plaintiff's contact with the police, he was overwhelmed,
disoriented and hurt," his attorney Daniel Snyder wrote in the suit.
"Plaintiff was unable to understand the police officers clearly."
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the city's 9-1-1 dispatch
center, declined to comment. Sgt. Pete Simpson, Police Bureau
spokesman, said the bureau doesn't have a specific policy on how to
respond to hearing-impaired people. He declined to comment on the
lawsuit but released the police reports in the case.
Read the lawsuit brought by Philip Wolfe.
Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice has urged police agencies
across the country to adopt effective communication policies to ensure
a "consistently high level of service is provided to all community
members, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing."
Under the Justice Department's model policy, police agencies would
have 24-hour access to a sign language interpreting service and would
use aids, such as text telephones or written notes, to help people who
Simpson said there are volunteer translators available through the
Police Bureau's Crisis Response Team, "but currently there are no
Officers try to have people write down or type a statement, he added.
Wolfe's lawsuit stems from an April 9 call to 9-1-1 about 9:20 a.m.
after Wolfe fled his Northeast Portland apartment to escape his
partner, who had grabbed him by both ankles and dragged him along the
floor. Because Wolfe's cell phone was almost out of power, he sent a
text message to a friend, who is also deaf, asking her to contact
The friend, Erin Dunn, contacted emergency dispatch through a video
relay operator to report the assault. Dunn told dispatch that Wolfe,
deaf since birth, needed an American Sign Language interpreter.
According to the lawsuit, the 9-1-1 operator said officers would get
an interpreter if necessary. When Dunn asked for the dispatcher's
name, the dispatcher said he was ending the call.
When Portland police arrived, Wolfe asked for a sign interpreter. He
tried to use a laptop computer to communicate with police, but he
couldn't get it to work. Wolfe wasn't aware that his partner had
removed the computer's hard drive, the suit says.
Wolfe showed police a red mark on his back, but he did not understand
that he could have his partner arrested, the suit says.
According to police reports, the responding officers believed Wolfe
just wanted to get back into his apartment and helped him do so.
Once inside, they talked to Wolfe's partner, who was not deaf. Both
men agreed they felt safe and would work things out, the police report
So the officers left.
Later that night, Wolfe said, his partner kicked in his locked bedroom
door and tried to choke him. As Wolfe ran out of the bedroom, his
partner broke a lamp, threw glasses and threatened to kill him if he
left, his suit says.
Again, Wolfe sent a text message to his friend Dunn, asking her to
She did, asking the dispatcher at 10:49 p.m. to send police and noted
that Wolfe was deaf and needed an interpreter.
Wolfe met officers -- some of whom had been on the earlier call -- on
the street outside. He tried to explain that his roommate had attacked
him, and he asked again for an interpreter.
Police said in their reports that Wolfe was able to communicate with
officers in writing and with hand motions. Yet one officer called
dispatch and asked for someone who knew American Sign Language.
When Officer Heidi Brockmann arrived, she apologized to Wolfe in
American Sign Language for her beginner-level sign skills. "Due to her
lack of skills," the suit says, "Officer Brockmann was unable to
adequately assist Plaintiff."
According to a police report, Brockmann suggested that another officer
remove his car's mobile computer so Wolfe could type a statement. By
that time, Wolfe was back in his apartment trying to type one on his
Police took photos of Wolfe's injuries and arrested his partner on
assault and harassment charges. Brockmann helped another officer
communicate with Wolfe to explain how he could obtain a restraining
order, the police report says.
By the time the police report was written, Officer Joseph R. Cook said
he had not received Wolfe's statement. According to police, Wolfe had
trouble e-mailing it. The officer offered to pick up a printout, but
Wolfe did not have a printer. The statement reached police by 12:11
Charges against Wolfe's partner were dropped in late July, when the
partner committed suicide.
Wolfe's suit seeks economic damages up to $5,000 and compensatory
damages for inconvenience and mental anguish.
"Just as businesses are expected to try to accommodate customers with
disabilities and employers provide reasonable accommodations to allow
employees with disabilities to do their job, police departments are
expected to adjust to citizens who are deaf," said John Dineen, a
training and information specialist with the Northwest ADA Center at
the University of Washington.
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