DOJ and Vancouver Police Department resolve alleged violations of Americans with Disabilities Act

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Seattle – The Vancouver Police Department in Vancouver, Washington, and the U.S. Department of Justice today reached a settlement agreement to ensure equal access to services for all individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The investigation and settlement resulted from the complaint of a Vancouver resident who is deaf and was denied auxiliary aids or services during her interview and arrest.  The settlement agreement calls for substantial updates to the Department’s policies and procedures.  The complainant will also be paid $30,000 by the Vancouver Police Department.

“Law enforcement encounters are some of the most high-stakes and personally significant moments a person can experience. It is critically important that individuals be able to effectively communicate in these moments – both to provide information to the police and to receive information about their rights,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  “This settlement will help ensure that every person who is deaf or hard of hearing has the ability to effectively communicate, and equal access to services in their encounters with the Vancouver Police Department.”

The investigation determined that Vancouver Police Department officers failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with the Complainant were as effective as communications with others.  The department failed to provide auxiliary aids and services that were necessary to ensure effective communication with the Complainant during the investigation of criminal allegations against her (including interrogation), communications regarding her Miranda rights, and her arrest.  The Complainant alleged that VPD required her minor daughter to serve as an interpreter instead, in violation of her rights. Further, the Complainant alleges that VPD handcuffed her behind her back during transport to jail leaving her unable to communicate at all. The investigation substantiated these claims and further revealed that VPD further failed to provide a qualified interpreter to the alleged victim of the related incident, who is also deaf.

Under the terms of the settlement, within 60 days VPD will provide the U.S. Attorney’s Office with draft policy revisions to improve effective communication with persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Such policy revisions will address effective communications with persons with disabilities.  The settlement also calls for the police department to modify its restraint and handcuffing policy so that detainees who are deaf or hard of hearing can communicate using American Sign Language or in writing by having their hands in front of their bodies.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Vancouver Police Department will document all requests for communication assistive devices and how the Department met those requests. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor the Vancouver Police Department’s compliance with the settlement for the next two years.  The Vancouver Police Department will report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on training of staff, the logs regarding request and use of assistive services, and any complaints regarding compliance with the ADA.  The reports are due every six months.

The matter was initially handled by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg.  Assistant United States Attorney Matt Waldrop is overseeing the compliance portion of this case.  Learn more about our civil rights program here.