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El Paso County Settles Ex-Prisoner's Disabilities Suit for $6,650

On June 26, 2012, representatives of the County of El Paso, Texas signed a settlement in a suit brought by a deaf former jail prisoner over the lack of accommodations for disabled prisoners at the El Paso County Jail.

Jose Luis Rodriguez is a deaf man with limited written English skills and no written Spanish comprehension. He cannot read lips and normally communicates using American Sign Language (ASL). He was arrested for having written checks with insufficient funds but did not understand why he was being arrested because the arresting officers could not communicate in ASL and did not write down the information or provide him with written Miranda warnings.

The normal procedure in such a case is to take the person to the jail where, following book in, they post a bond equal to the amount of money owed and are then released. No one explained this to Rodriguez. Consequently, he was booked into the jail and incarcerated for thirteen days.

During his stay at the jail, Rodriguez received no accommodation for his disability. He required daily medications for serious medical conditions and requested them from jail medical personnel via terse notes, but was either misunderstood or ignored for four days. He was unable to understand the announcements made over the jail's intercom and could not communicate effectively with other prisoners and jail staff. He could not enjoy the televisions in the jail as they were not equipped with closed captioning. Whenever Rodriguez was taken from his cell, he was handcuffed by guards, making it impossible for him to communicate with them with hand gestures.

Twice, Rodriguez was taken to a room at the jail for what were apparently court appearances via teleconferencing. However, he was not provided with an interpreter and the monitors did not have closed captioning, so he was unable to understand what was going on.

Once, Rodriguez was escorted to an office with a TTY/TTD phone and allowed to communicate with a "Mr. Lara." Guards gave him a note telling him that Mr. Lara was an attorney. He had a conversation with Mr. Lara, but the guards hung up the phone after less than five minutes and before the conversation was completed. Guards with angry faces hovered over him while he used the TTY/TTD phone. They also apparently did not understand how the TTY/TTD relay service worked.

From the call with Mr. Lara, Rodriguez believed be would be released the next day, but this did not happen. Three days later, he unsuccessfully tried to call Mr. Lara, but was told Mr. Lara was on vacation. He was not released for six additional days following another video court appearance in which he did not understand what was happening.

Aided by the El Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project and represented by Texas attorneys Christopher Benoit, Wayne Krause, Joseph Berra, Amin Alehashem and James C. Harrington, Rodriguez filed suit in state court under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and Chapter 121 of the Texas Human Resources Code. The suit was removed to federal court.

To settle the suit, El Paso County agreed pay $6,650, install a videophone system in the jails, give jail staff training on accommodating prisoners with disabilties, improve jail policies on disabled prisoners, provide qualified interpreters for hearing-impaired prisoners and give Rodriguez a written letter of regret. See: Rodriguez v. County of El Paso, U.S.D.C.-W.D.Tex., No. EP 11-CA-389-FM.


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Related legal case

Rodriguez v. County of El Paso