A deaf man is suing Ramsey County, alleging that he was not allowed to use a teletypewriter machine to communicate with family and friends from jail, while inmates without hearing impairments freely used phones for such calls.
Michael Sherman, who was born deaf-mute, also named corrections officer Steven Engstrom in the suit filed in federal court. Sherman's allegations stem from his time in the Ramsey County jail from January to October 2011 — months before the county settled an unrelated lawsuit with a deaf activist over use of teletypewriter (TTY) machines.
"At the time of Mr. Sherman's incarceration at the Ramsey County jail, Ramsey County maintained a policy that the TTY machine could only be used for legal calls but not for personal calls," the suit said. "…Mr. Sherman was prohibited from engaging in direct communications with family and friends … hearing Ramsey County inmates were not subject to any such restrictions and could use the phone to communicate with friends and family many times throughout the day."
According to the suit: Sherman uses a TTY machine the way hearing inmates use telephones.
He made "numerous" requests to use the machine to make personal calls, but was always denied.
"Mr. Sherman was not allowed to use the TTY machine even once to call his mother from the Ramsey County jail," the suit said.
Sherman had to communicate with family and friends through writing instead.
The discrepancy in how Sherman and hearing inmates were treated caused him "discrimination and emotional trauma and distress," according to the suit.
Sherman's suit alleges that his 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection were violated, and that the county also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Sherman is seeking an unspecified monetary award.
In December 2011, the Ramsey County Board unanimously agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by activist Douglas Bahl.
The county agreed to pay $230,000, but did not admit to wrongdoing or liability in Bahl's federal lawsuit claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bahl, who died in 2014, alleged that for three days in jail he was not provided with a sign-language interpreter. He also said that he notified jailers that he was deaf but was denied an interpreter or a TTY device.
The county adopted new policies in January 2012 regarding deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates.
"The Ramsey County Adult Detention Center will provide qualified sign language interpreters or other appropriate auxiliary aids to ensure effective communication with all deaf and hard-of-hearing people detained at the ADC," said the policy.
It said the changes, including auxiliary aids and services, would allow them to have the same ability to communicate with people outside the facility as other detainees have.