The city of St. Paul will pay $95,000 to settle a case brought by a deaf woman who said the St. Paul Police Department did not provide her with a qualified interpreter when she tried to file domestic assault charges.
The City Council approved a settlement Wednesday with Catrina Hooper, who filed two lawsuits against the city alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Federal Rehabilitation Act and Minnesota Human Rights Act. In addition to the payout, the settlement requires the Police Department to provide interpreters certified in American Sign Language.
The lawsuits also accuse the city of violating a 2013 settlement involving a deaf man who said he was mistreated after asking for written communication during a traffic stop. The man, Douglas Bahl, claimed that a scuffle ensued in which he was sprayed with a chemical irritant and pulled from his vehicle.
According to a complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court, Hooper requested a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for a September 2014 meeting at which she planned to file domestic assault charges against her mother. The Police Department offered an officer who was not a qualified interpreter, despite Hooper’s objections. When Hooper went to the police station to file her charge, officers arrested her in connection with the assault and did not provide a qualified interpreter to communicate during the arrest.
After Hooper was released from jail, the complaint said, she tried again to file a domestic assault charge and give a statement. Police officers called her multiple times, inviting her to return to the department and make her complaint. When she did, officers arrested her again, and again did not provide an interpreter, the complaint said.
“As a result of Defendant’s actions, its failure to act, and its policies and practices, Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, emotional injuries, including but not limited to, humiliation, embarrassment, and anxiety,” the complaint said.
Court records show Hooper, 47, was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor assault that happened in September 2014.
Hooper and her attorneys at the Minnesota Disability Law Center were not immediately available for comment.
The city denies Hooper’s allegations, according to the settlement agreement. Police spokesman Steve Linders referred comment to the City Attorney’s Office.
Under the Bahl settlement, the Police Department agreed to provide qualified ASL interpreters and train its staff on the communication needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Under the Hooper settlement, Police Department policy will be amended to explicitly state that the department will use only certified ASL interpreters in scheduled interviews and meetings. Supervisors will be trained on the updated policy, as will all new employees for the next four years.
“While this settlement was reached to avoid protracted litigation,” City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said in a statement Thursday, “it also provides an opportunity to expand city policy to ensure we’re better responding to the needs of everyone in our community.”