On September 11, 2011, Diana Williams and her husband, Chris Williams, who are both deaf, attempted to evict tenants who had failed to pay rent. After the tenant’s boyfriend allegedly gestured that he had a gun, Chris called for the police using a video relay service that should have tipped off the dispatcher to send a translator along with the responding officers. When NYPD arrived at the scene without a translator, they began questioning the people that could talk while ignoring the deaf people.
Instead of judging both sides of the story, Officer Christopher Romano and his partner only spoke to the tenant’s hearing roommate and her boyfriend while ignoring Williams and her husband. Even though the cops were on the scene for 45 minutes, Romano never bothered to request for a translator. Although several deaf tenants in the building offered to translate for Williams, who cannot hear, speak English, or read lips, Romano rejected their help and decided to arrest her based on the false account from the tenant’s boyfriend.
After cuffing Williams’ hands behind her back, Romano was unable to explain the arrest to her deaf family members before taking her away. Although Williams clearly needed an interpreter, Romano checked the “No” box on the arrest report asking if an interpreter was required. He also checked “No” on separate paperwork asking if Williams had a disability.
In a deposition, Romano falsely insisted that he spoke with Williams – who cannot hear, speak English, or read lips – before arresting her.
With Williams detained, her husband arrived at the precinct with a sign language interpreter, but the NYPD threatened to arrest them if they didn’t leave. As Williams stood for several hours with her arm shackled to the wall, officers continued to ignore the deaf woman’s pleas as she began hyperventilating. While the cops transferred her to another precinct, Williams desperately attempted to write “Hospital” on the dirty window of the patrol car with her finger but only managed to spell out “HOSP.”
At Richmond University Hospital, Williams was able to communicate with an interpreter who agreed to tell the cops her side of the story. In response, one of the officers reportedly signed, “Bullshit.”
After spending the night in handcuffs, Williams was returned to the hospital where her breathing continued to get worse. Instead of giving her access to another interpreter, Williams was injected with a sedative and awoke again at the precinct. Held for 24 hours, she was finally released without charges.
“The NYPD needs to know how to treat deaf people,” Williams asserted. “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.”
Williams filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD in 2012 accusing the cops of violating her civil rights. Three years earlier, the NYPD agreed to provide special training for officers after numerous reports emerged of cops abusing deaf people in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. According to the testimony of Carol Roberson, the city’s assistant commissioner for training the NYPD on interacting with the disabled, no officers have received the required training.
“Perhaps as alarming as the frequency and severity of these assaults, is the infrequency and leniency of formal charges against the officers responsible,” Helping to Educate and Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD) Founder Talila Lewis wrote in an ACLU blog. “Deaf survivors of police brutality and family members of deaf homicide victims tend to prevail in lawsuits against police, costing taxpayers dearly, but officers are rarely formally charged or dismissed for their actions.”
Although Williams agreed to settle her lawsuit against the city for $750,000 on Tuesday, the officer responsible for violating her civil rights will not face punishment. Instead, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the incompetence and laziness of Officer Romano and his coworkers at the NYPD. How are these cops expected to improve if they aren’t held accountable for their blatant stupidity?
After an NYPD officer lied about a deaf woman’s disability and refused to provide a legally mandated translator before wrongfully arresting her, the woman reached a $750,000 settlement this week. Although the inept cop was responsible for wrongfully arresting the deaf woman and violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, taxpayers will bear the burden of the settlement instead of the incompetent officer.
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