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Police training to deal with disabilities is imperative

Posted by Steven H. Fagan | Jan 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Our law firm focuses on defense of traffic violations, criminal offenses and driving under the influence (DUI) at courthouses throughout Cook County, Lake County and DuPage County.

As such, a recent news item from Oklahoma recently caught my eye. The headline read: "Cops beat a deaf man for seven minutes because he didn't respond to their yelling." This was a routine traffic stop, the same type that often leads police to investigate possible DUI or other criminal offenses like driving while suspended or possession of drugs and many other possible charges. We've seen all manner of criminal offenses result from traffic stops, and sometimes disabilities like deafness or diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis play a big part in how police react. Not often like this, though.

According to the news story Pearl Pearson, 64, diabetic deaf driver who resides in the Oklahoma City area crossed paths with the wrong cops, on the evening of Jan. 3. According to Mr. Pearson and his family the Oklahoma Highway Patrol pulled him over and he stopped as required by law.

His driver's license indicates that Mr. Pearson is deaf and he has a placard in the driver's door of his vehicle that plainly states, “Driver is deaf.”

Mr. Pearson rolled down his window, expecting an officer to request his identification. Instead, an officer struck him in the face before he had the chance to do anything. A sign language interpreter was never provided while Mr. Pearson was in custody including during the booking, medical care in the hospital or his time at the jail, even though he requested one.

Mr. Pearson has no clue why he was struck by the officer and his family would like some answers.

Mr. Pearson's son is a police officer, as is his son-in-law, who is a deputy sheriff. He respects law enforcement and knows how to respond when pulled over. There is no reason for someone by those who are meant to protect and serve.

A search of the Internet identified two incidents where law enforcement officers mistreated suspects in recent years in the state of Illinois.

  • Oct. 7, 2009: 15-year-old Marshawn Pitts, who is an intellectually disabled student, was beaten by Dolton police officer Christopher Lloyd at a school for special needs children Pitts attends and Lloyd works at. The assault was caught on surveillance cameras. Lloyd said that he ordered Pitts to tuck in his shirt and Pitts had cursed at him and was acting belligerent. Pitts, however, said that he did not understand what Lloyd was saying and Lloyd proceeded to slam him against the wall, repeatedly punch him in the face, and hold his face onto the floor, breaking his nose and preventing him from breathing. Several students and teachers had to physically bring Lloyd off of Pitts. Lloyd was placed on administrative leave and later resigned.
  • June 7, 2011: Flint Farmer was fatally shot three times in the back by Chicago police officer Gildardo Sierra. Sierra and a partner had responded to a domestic disturbance call allegedly involving Farmer. When confronted by the police, Farmer fled. Sierra shot at Farmer multiple times, hitting him in the leg and abdomen. Publicly available police video shows Sierra circle the prone Farmer as three bright flashes emit from approximately waist level. The coroner who performed the autopsy on Farmer reported that Farmer could have survived the shots to the leg and abdomen, but any of the three shots through the back would have been fatal. Although the Chicago police department ruled the shooting justified, by Oct. 23, 2011 Sierra had been stripped of his police powers and the FBI had opened an investigation into the incident.

A handbook published by the U.S. Department of Justice is association with the National Sheriff's Association provides guidelines and techniques for how law enforcement officer should respond to persons with disabilities. The handbook has a section which discusses the deaf or hard of hearing.

The term deaf is used in reference to people who are unable to hear or understand oral communications even with the aid of an amplification device. Hard of hearing refers to a hearing loss severe enough to necessitate the use of such a device to effectively hear oral communications. In July 2010, about 10 percent of the population in the United States has some degree of hearing loss. Among older persons, one in three people over age 60 and half of those over 85 have a hearing loss. Whether deaf or hard of hearing, persons with this disability are fully capable of cooperating with first responders. To effectively meet the needs of deaf persons law enforcement officers must quickly determine the method by which they wish to communicate.

It is imperative that law enforcement officers receive proper training to assist them in their interactions with persons suffering from a disease or a disability. In the case of a DUI, a diabetic in crisis can mimic signs of impairment from alcohol.

The attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis have defended countless clients against DUI charges throughout the Chicago area courts, including those located in Cook County, DuPage County and Lake County. The attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis understand which defense strategies are the most effective in court and how to challenge evidence gathered by law enforcement and offered by the prosecution. Contact us now for a free consultation.

About the Author

Steven H. Fagan

Steve Fagan earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, is a member of the NCDD, NACDL, ISBA and a founding member of the DUIDLA. He is published and has taught CLE for lawyers on subjects such as sex offenses, DUI and criminal defense, focuses on trial work and Real Estate closings


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