Monday, May 24, 2010

Deaf couple files complaints against Derby

Deaf couple files complaints against Derby

DERBY — A deaf couple has filed complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, claiming Derby police should have provided them with a sign language interpreter after they got into a car accident last year.

Wendell Hunte of 10 Boston Ave., Bridgeport, and Emori Tompkins of 57 Smith St., Derby, each filed a complaint against the city, the Police Department and police commission, claiming police violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law.

According to the complaints, Hunte and Tompkins are both deaf, their preferred method of communication is American sign language, and they have limitations in understanding written and spoken English.

The complainants claim the police officer who responded to the scene of the crash, Holly Whitman, asked them what happened. They used gestures to indicate they were deaf and needed to write a note to request a sign language interpreter, according to their complaints. They claim Whitman didn’t provide them with pen and paper, and instead asked their 5-year-old son, who can hear, questions.

The complaints claim Whitman didn’t take their statements at the scene, and later, after they were treated at a hospital and released, had a 16-year-old relative who can hear interpret for them.

“At no time did respondents provide ... an ASL interpreter or any other appropriate auxiliary aids necessary for effective communication,” the complaints allege.

The couple claims they were unable to communicate effectively about the accident without an ASL interpreter.

Attorney Paulette Annon of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities filed the complaints on the pair’s behalf. Jim O’Neill, a spokesman for the CHRO, said this week both cases remain open and pending. O’Neill declined further comment.

Derby police Lt. Salvatore Frosceno said police have no comment, and the matter has been forwarded to city Corporation Counsel Joseph Coppola.

Coppola said Friday the department denies some of the allegations.

“At no time did they ask for an interpreter,” Coppola said. “This was a car accident, and the officer needed an answer if they were hurt. It isn’t a situation where you can wait for an interpreter.”

One of the complaints says an ambulance attendant gave Tompkins a pen and paper at the accident scene, and she wrote down her 16-year-old daughter’s name and phone number on it for Whitman.

“There is an apparent contradiction — first the complaint says they weren’t given a pen and paper, and later says they were, but that wasn’t good enough,” Coppola said.

The accident happened on Aug. 16, 2009, on Smith Street near West Ninth Street. According to the accident report, written by Whitman, Hunte was driving, and Tompkins and their 5-year-old child were his two passengers.

The officer reported asking them if they were injured, and the report says Tompkins said her neck hurt, and Hunte said his knees were scraped, so Whitman called for an ambulance. The report indicates that Hunte and Tompkins are hearing-impaired, and says Tompkins wrote on paper “black man hit us, he ran away, he drove wrong way.”

A witness reported seeing a black male hit Hunte’s vehicle head-on. The man got out, inspected the damage, but then got back in his vehicle and fled the scene. Hunte grabbed onto the driver’s side window and was dragged a short distance, according to the witness, the report shows. Police deemed the unidentified hit-and-run driver to be at fault for the crash.