The lawsuit, which seeks financial damages, states that the Sheriff’s Office violated federal law by not providing services to our client, Cassandra Kinney, who is deaf and requested an interpreter.
The Case: Kinney vs. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
Our attorney Shannon Caserta filed the lawsuit against JSO on Apr. 10.
It states that Ms. Kinney asked for a sign-language interpreter on several occasions, yet the Sheriff’s office did not make one available to her - even after they arrested her.
"The police should have provided an interpreter and never did, it was horrible," Kinney said in an interview with Action Jax News.
"I had no access to communication, no interpretation. I asked for one, he seemed to be ignoring my request," she continued.
The 21-page complaint details Kinney’s travails throughout a seven-month period, beginning in August 2015. Kinney began having problems with her roommates, and the Sheriff’s department was called to the home six times over the months.
Not only was Kinney not able to fully comprehend the accusations without an interpreter, but also the JSO only heard the roommate’s side of the story, as Ms. Kinney was not able to voice her side or defend herself.
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That is a clear violation of federal law and there are resources available for police to communicate with the deaf. The ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures persons with disabilities have equal access to employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
“What they could have done when they couldn’t communicate was simply put her in the vehicle, drive her three miles down the road, and turn on this piece of equipment that runs 24/7,” explained Caserta in an interview with Action News Jax.
The complaint further alleges that the police officers “Baker Acted” Ms. Kinney. The Baker Act, a Florida statute, is commonly known as emergency or involuntary commitment. In order for a judge, law enforcement official, physician, or mental health professional to initiate this involuntary examination, there must be evidence that the person in question has a possible mental illness.
Ms. Kinney was admitted to a mental health center to be evaluated each time JSO was called to the home. Yet, in five of those cases, it was determined she did not qualify to be committed involuntarily under the Baker Act.
The Sheriff's department had been acting in response to her roommate’s allegations that she was suicidal, without giving Ms. Kinney her due right to speak for herself.
Ms. Kinney felt trapped because her name was on the lease and felt her roommates were trying to get rid of her. Kinney’s roommate filed an injunction, which she did not understand to be a no-contact order. When she tried to retrieve her belongings, FaceTiming her roommate’s wife, she was arrested for violating the no-contact order.
As Caserta penned in the complaint, Ms. Kinney was incarcerated for almost two weeks and was never provided an interpreter. Furthermore, due to the JSO’s failure to provide effective alerting devices for Ms. Kinney, she missed meal calls.
“Any entity that receives federal funds, which law enforcement, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office does, they have an obligation to not discriminate against persons with disabilities," Caserta said.
The JSO told Action Jax it cannot provide comment on legal matters.
The Larger Problem
For Caserta, this case is symptomatic of a larger problem. “We are hopeful her horrific experience and lawsuit will help prevent others from undergoing the same,” she said.
Caserta is one of the disability rights attorneys across the country dedicated to using legal action as a tool to demand justice in a world that’s changing too slowly, in hopes that businesses, the government, hospitals, and police departments do not dismiss the rights of people with disabilities.
Over 28 million Americans are considered deaf or hearing disabled. Fifteen percent of American adults] report some hearing loss, and that number increases to 25 percent in people over 65.
Despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 27 years ago, making equal opportunity a mandate across the country, this significant part of the population faces unequal access on a daily basis.
This problem becomes even more egregious during emergencies.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot use 911 and have to rely on a relay service during moments when every minute counts. While the national standard established by the National Emergency Number Association requires 90 percent of 911 calls to be picked up within 10 seconds, it can take deaf people anywhere from three to eight minutes to connect to the 911 center.
Hospitals have also been found to be routinely inept at treating deaf or hard of hearing patients, often lacking on-site interpreters. A deaf person who uses American Sign Language to communicate relies on an interpreter in order to receive the same level of care as a hearing individual.
Defend Your Rights
Our deaf and disability rights practice area was established to take companies and organizations who do not abide by the ADA to task. Spearheaded by attorney Sharon Caserta, this group represents people whose civil liberties have been denied.
If your rights have been violated or you’ve been discriminated against because of a disability, contact our attorneys today.
You can reach our Deaf and Disability Rights Unit directly by videophone at 904-245-1041 or fill out an online, free case review form.