St. Paul police to add interpreters for deaf

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2013 - 9:47 PM

The St. Paul City Council is expected to approve a settlement agreement with deaf activist Douglas Bahl.

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Doug Bahl in 2006

Photo: Tom Sweeney, Jm - Star Tribune

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St. Paul police are planning to change the way they communicate with hearing-impaired people as part of an expected settlement between the city and a deaf man who alleges he was mistreated after asking for police to communicate with him in writing during a traffic stop.

Deaf activist Douglas Bahl and his attorney are expected to be awarded $93,450, most of which will go to legal fees, after the St. Paul City Council approves the settlement in a Wednesday meeting. In addition to the money, the agreement stipulates that St. Paul police will provide qualified sign language interpreters and train its staff on the communication needs of those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

On Nov. 17, 2006, Bahl was stopped for running a red light. Bahl claims he told the officer he was deaf and asked to communicate in writing. Instead, he said, a scuffle ensued in which he was sprayed with chemical irritant and pulled from his vehicle.

Bahl later was transported to Regions Hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises before being taken to jail, where he said he was detained for three days without a sign-language interpreter to help him communicate.

Bahl ultimately was convicted of a misdemeanor in connection with the incident. Bahl, a member at-large and former president of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, sued the city of St. Paul, Ramsey County and the Sheriff’s Office alleging that he had not been provided auxiliary aids necessary to communicate effectively during the traffic stop and following his arrest.

Ramsey County reached a $230,000 settlement with Douglas Bahl, his wife and attorneys in 2011 that required the county to provide all deaf and hearing-impaired inmates a sign-language interpreter or other appropriate communication aids within an hour of being taken into custody.

In the city’s settlement agreement, the city denies Bahl’s allegations and liability for damages.

The settlement agreement states that the Police Department will provide qualified sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids without charge to make sure those who are arrested or detained and are hard-of-hearing can communicate effectively.

“The City will not fail or refuse to provide any service or program because a person makes a request for an ASL interpreter or other auxiliary aids or services,” according to the agreement.

Within 30 days of the effective date of the agreement, the police will designate a deaf and hard-of-hearing coordinator.

By the end of the year, the St. Paul police will also complete departmentwide training to address the special communication needs of deaf or hard-of-hearing people. The training will include best practices for communicating with hard-of-hearing individuals in “on the street” encounters when interpreters are not available as well as how to use equipment to facilitate communication, such as a videophones. The training will be part of the initial orientation of all department staff.

“We are already in the process of reviewing those policies,” said St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla.

Currently, the Police Department’s policy is that if somebody is hearing-impaired and the arresting officer is able to communicate in writing, then no interpreter is needed.

Earlier this year, St. Paul reached a $30,000 settlement in a police brutality lawsuit in which a man alleged that officers used unnecessary force when they came to his home with an arrest warrant on allegations he had violated his probation in 2011.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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