The City of Oakdale has paid $30,000 to resolve a probable cause finding of disability discrimination. The finding was made by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, for failure to provide effective communication and meaningful access to police services to a deaf citizen. The complaint involved 58-year-old Alan Read and an incident that occurred at his Oakdale home in August 2013.
“Ultimately, it is important for cities, police departments and government entities to examine their policies and training to ensure an inclusive environment for people with disabilities,” said Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. “Cases involving Miranda Rights and the rights of individuals to be read their Fifth Amendment rights are central to America’s justice system. As a society, we need to be vigilant to protect a person’s basic rights and provide reasonable accommodations as required by law.”
The Read versus Oakdale Police Department settlement agreement describes how the police department will update its policies, procedures and services, designate a deaf and hard-of-hearing
coordinator, and provide training to staff to ensure individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing have full and equal enjoyment of public services. Read was paid $15,000, Gilbert Law, PLLC, $10,000 and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid $5,000.
Police were called to Read’s home on a domestic dispute. During an after-arrest interview, Read asked for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or a family member to communicate with Oakdale officers. Three days before his arrest, Oakdale Police provided Read an interpreter to allow him to file a complaint in a theft case.
But during the subsequent incident and arrest, police used written notes to communicate and gave Read a copy of the Miranda warning. Police contacted an interpreter but didn’t use that service. Nor did they ask Read’s sister about her willingness or ability to interpret.
Read spent 48 hours in the Washington County Jail without interpretation services. State officials determined that the police repeatedly disregarded Read’s request to work with his sister, his preferred accommodation, and based that disregard on unfounded concerns about timeliness.
Police reports indicated that Read had difficulty with understanding written language and that officers were aware of his struggles understanding written communication.
An officer’s comments indicated police had concerns that Read didn’t understand its communications with him.
Oakdale Police didn’t have a policy and its officers didn’t have training on how to interact with deaf suspects. Another finding is that police relied upon Read for direction and solutions related to acquiring the preferred accommodation. The case is similar to the 2008 arrest in St. Paul of deaf community activist Douglas Bahl. Bahl, who has since passed away, sued and won a case centering
on a lack of accommodations for ASL.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act protects people with disabilities from entities refusing to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability and from refusing or limiting access to public services. Disability discrimination and retaliation are two of the most common claims that the state investigates. Between July and December of 2015, 35 percent of the complaints involved claims of disability discrimination, without regard to the subject area, and five percent of the complaints were in the area of public services.
Anyone who wants further information about disability discrimination may go here.
Information from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights was used for this article.