Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Deaf man wins support in claim against police

Source Link - Deaf man wins support in claim against police

A man who is deaf has won support for his claim that he was discriminated against twice when city police officers refused to provide him with an interpreter after he requested one.

An investigator for the Maine Human Rights Commission concluded that Wayne Draper of Augusta was the victim of illegal discrimination in his encounters with police on Nov. 10, 2007, and Jan. 23, 2008.

The investigator, Michele Dion, is recommending the commission uphold that finding at its next meeting, Sept. 21, at the Senator Inn in Augusta.

Commission findings are not law but may become grounds for lawsuits.

City attorney Stephen Langsdorf said he will argue against the finding, saying officers did nothing wrong and that no discrimination occurred.

"There is no basis for a finding of discrimination," he said. "Absolutely none."

Langsdorf wrote to the commission to dispute the investigator's finding.

"In both incidents, Mr. Draper was effectively able to communicate with the Police Department and experienced no adverse consequences," he said.

Sean Ociepka, an attorney with the Disability Rights Center of Maine who is representing Draper, supports the finding.

"The case boils down to communication," Ociepka said. "Under the law, the Augusta Police Department needs to provide effective communication to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and they failed to do so for Mr. Draper even after he requested they provide him with an interpreter."

Ociepka said Draper and the Disability Rights Center want the Police Department to adopt policies and procedures for dealing with interpreter requests from people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and they want training for police officers.

"We have sought some money compensation for Mr. Draper who was discriminated against and think that will deter similar discrimination in the future," Ociepka said.

According to documents in the case, the Nov. 10, 2007, incident began after Draper and a friend, Jay Green, who is also deaf, spotted a vacant hunter's tree stand at Riverside Drive and Route 3. After failing to find any identification tags on it, they put the stand in the back of Green's pickup.

As they began driving away, the tree stand owner, who had apparently gone briefly to a local store, waved them to a stop. He told the men the tree stand was his and called police.

Draper said he tried to show the investigating officer a card indicating he wanted a sign language interpreter called. He said the officer refused and wrote a note saying Draper was to speak to a different officer.

Draper -- who was never charged in the incident -- tried to get the tree stand owner charged with threatening, but the district attorney's office declined to prosecute, saying in writing that the owner "had a legal right to use reasonable force to stop (Green) from leaving with it."

More than two months later, Draper said he was threatened by the tree stand owner in a local grocery store. Draper had store personnel call police, and Draper again requested an interpreter. He said he was initially refused one, but then officers arranged for him to meet an interpreter at the police station later that night. Eventually the tree stand owner was warned against threatening Draper.