A deaf woman who describes herself as a once happy and upbeat person prior to an almost fatal arrest in 2011 is now fighting a bitter legal battle against the New York Police Department (NYPD). She recently described how she was manhandled, bullied, and had to etch words on a police cruiser window to get help before she died.
Diana Williams, 48, deaf and unable to speak, found herself in a horrifying situation on September 11, 2011, when she was arrested in her home in Staten Island. Although there were two resdients that could have spoken with the police officers, they were never questioned about the incident.
Instead, Officer Christopher Romano concluded that Williams got into an argument that led to a scuffle with another deaf roommate and in turn, arrested them both.
Romano placed a handcuffed Williams in the back of his police cruiser and drove away without any way to explain to her where he was taking her and what she was being arrested for. Additionally, he checked off “No” on the procedural paperwork that asked if William was disabled.
According to court documents, Williams was taken to the police precinct, handcuffed to a wall, and for the numerous hours, was ignored until she began to hyperventilate. A police officer at the police station finally acknowledged Williams’ distress, but instead of taking her to the hospital, he took her to another precinct.
Williams, in need of medical help, couldn’t communicate her needs, so she twisted up one of her handcuffed arms and wrote “HOSP” while on the way to the next precinct, indicating that she needed a hospital.
She was finally taken to Richmond University Hospital where an interpreter translated for her. However, when the interpreter informed police officers that Williams needed someone at the precinct who could sign back with her, one of the police officers reportedly signed “B******t.”
Williams was returned to the precinct with no interpreter and was given a shot that made her sleep through the night. When she woke up, all charges were dropped.
In 2012, Williams filed a lawsuit against the NYPD, claiming her civil rights were violated. With an interpreter, she explained her frustration on what happened that day in hopes that changes will be made.
“The NYPD needs to know how to treat deaf people. One woman officer made fun of me, waving her hands at me when I tried to speak. Another woman officer grabbed me and pushed me up against the wall when I reached to pat her hand — that’s how deaf people signal we want someone’s attention… they didn’t even know that basic thing.”
Although the case is still pending, the NYPD issued a recent statement indicating that they are “exploring ways to add more qualified sign-language interpreters.”
New York isn’t the only state that’s been in the hot seat for lack of interpreters for disabled people. Earlier this year, an Arlington, Texas man was arrested for reportedly stealing an iPad and spent six weeks in jail without the benefit of an interpreter.
Abreham Zemedagegehu states the not only did he fear for his well-being, but medical procedures were performed on him without his consent.
“I felt like I was losing my mind. I thought Virginia would give me an interpreter and they said no. That’s why I felt lost.”
Like Williams, Zemedagegehu also filed a discrimination lawsuit. He claims that the Arlington Police Department violated his civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA states that law enforcement must provide the needed communication aids with any person who is hard of hearing or deaf. The only exception is when the aid would result in a significant burden on law procedures. In addition, law enforcement must provide communication services that are effective and easy for the disabled person to understand.
[Photo Courtesy of Barry Williams/New York Daily News]