Report: Deaf woman who reports a crime to 911 is treated like a criminal

TACOMA, WA—A deaf crime victim who called 911 to report being attacked in her home ended up being shot by police with a Taser, arrested, and left in jail for more than two days without an interpreter, according to an August 5 report by Chris Halsne, an investigative reporter with KIRO-TV in Tacoma. She was finally released, without an apology, when the prosecutor realized what had happened.

Although Lashonn White said she told the 911 operator that she was deaf–and the recording of her April 6 call confirms that–the police officers who responded to the scene failed to take her deafness into consideration—even though police records and eye-witness reports show they had been told of her condition several times

Halsne reported that White, who had been deaf since birth, used a video-equipped phone, connected to a TV and a Web camera, to call 911. A certified American Sign Language interpreter on the other end verbally relayed White’s pleas for help to a Tacoma police dispatcher.

But several minutes later, when the two policemen arrived at White’s apartment complex, one of them almost immediately pulled out his Taser and fired a two-barbed electric wire into the woman’s ribs and stomach.

Later, White told the reporter what happened when the police arrived: “All I’m doing is waving my hands in the air, and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground and then handcuffed. It was almost like I blacked out. I was so dizzy and disoriented.”

She added, “The next thing I know, they took me to jail. I said, ‘What? What have I done?’ I couldn’t figure it out. I had no idea what was going on.”

The 911 caller was charged with simple assault and obstruction of a police officer. She spent 60 hours in jail–without an interpreter–before a city prosecutor reviewed her case and asked that charges not be filed at all.

In his arrest report, Ryan Koskovich, the officer who used the Taser, wrote in part: “I yelled for White to ‘stop’ and held my right hand up to signal for White to stop. White ignored my commands… White was making a loud grunting noise, had a piercing stare in her eyes and had a clenched right fist in the air.”

However, investigators from KIRO-TV interviewed two witnesses to the incident who said that they had yelled at the police that the woman they were arresting was deaf and could not hear them. One of them told the reporter that police at the scene acknowledged that there had been a misunderstanding.

 

STATE LAW IGNORED, SAYS REPORT 

What happened to White, who has no criminal record, should have been prevented by Washington state law. As Halsne reported, one section (RCW 2.42.120 [5]) states “If a hearing-impaired person is arrested for an alleged violation of a criminal law, the arresting officer or the officer’s supervisor shall, at the earliest possible time, procure and arrange payment for a qualified interpreter for any notification of rights, warning, interrogation, or taking of a statement.” However, despite White’s repeated requests, an ASL interpreter was never provided.