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Police Pays $25K Settlement With Deaf Man

Deaf News: Woonsocket Police Department reaches civil rights settlement with Deaf man who was arrested in Rhode Island.

PROVIDENCE, RI -- The Providence Journal: The City of Woonsocket has reached a settlement with a Deaf man police arrested and held overnight without providing him with a sign language interpreter or other communications assistance.

The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rhode Island Disability Law Center filed suit against the city and its police department on behalf of David Alves, a 25-year-old North Smithfield man who is profoundly Deaf. He accused the city of violating his rights by arresting him for allegedly making an obscene hand gesture.

In reaching the terms, the city did not admit fault but agreed to pay Alves $25,000 in damages and legal fees. In addition, it struck down a city ordinance that allowed police to charge an individual with disorderly conduct for using abusive or obscene language or making obscene hand gestures.

The city, too, agrees to put in place a policy and train staff to offer communications devices to people who are hearing impaired. Alves relies on American Sign Language to communicate.

According to the lawsuit, Alves was celebrating a friend's birthday in July 2015 at the City Side Club when a confrontation with a bouncer ensued. Two officers arrived and directed Alves to leave the club. The bouncer laughed as Alves started to leave, to which Alves responded by giving him the sign language version of "bull[expletive]." The sign entailed holding up his hand with his index and pinky fingers out and the middle two fingers held down with his thumb - a sign police mistook as giving them the finger.

Police officers David B. Wahl and other officers grabbed Alves, placed him in handcuffs and took him to the police station. He was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly making an obscene gesture. He requested a sign language interpreter, which the police did not provide.

When a friend went to check on his status, an officer wrote a note back saying, "These things happen, he just needs to take it as a learning experience."

The next morning they released him and issued a summons to appear in Municipal Court. His father requested an interpreter at the hearing. Court employees refused to provide such services until being called by the Disability Law Center. The court dismissed the charge.

Plaintiff David Alves said in a statement: "This settlement will help send a very clear message to all law enforcement in the State of Rhode Island that they cannot violate anyone's civil rights. I hope this settlement will encourage other police departments across the state to also adopt effective communication policies for all who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing."

"I am pleased we were able to settle this case and vindicate the important principle that individuals have the power to challenge police practices that undermine basic constitutional rights," V. Edward Formisano, representing the ACLU, said.

SOURCE - The Providence Journal
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