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December 10, 2016

Feds: Philly police discriminated against the deaf

Federal authorities said the Philadelphia Police Department discriminated against suspects who are hearing-impaired by not providing them adequate means of communication. 

Police said Friday the U.S. Department of Justice sent them a letter on Wednesday, Dec. 7, about complaints they had received regarding the department's policies and procedures while detaining and arresting hearing-disabled individuals.

"By not engaging in best practices, the department hasn’t provided all individuals the full opportunity to benefit from programs, services and activities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)," a police press release said.

Police didn't include details about the incidents in question. However, according to the letter from the DOJ, obtained by the Inquirer, multiple complainants said the department didn't provide them proper communication for their hearing disabilities.

The original complaint concerns a 2013 incident in which a 23-year-old deaf man was arrested in court. The man threw a bracelet, hitting two people, during a sentencing hearing for his brother.

The man was unable to use sign language because he was handcuffed behind his back. He was detained for 16 hours after police didn't comply to his request for a qualified interpreter, and during his video arraignment the next day the judge was not told he was deaf and the video was not captioned, the newspaper reports.

Two months later he was arrested for not appearing in court even though his hearing had been rescheduled. He was handcuffed in the front at his mother's request, but officers didn't let him search for documentation to prove his hearing was set for another date.

He was detained and released, and police gave him a telecommunication system for the deaf at his request, but it didn't work.

Police said they would be working with the DOJ, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities to work on providing better services for the hearing-impaired and to "ensure that any deficiencies are corrected and suitable standard(s) are adopted."

"While the finding and conclusion regarding the complaint are sobering; we appreciate the DOJ’s work and their input regarding this matter," police said. "We are using this as an opportunity to address a legitimate concern and make necessary improvements."