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Deaf Oregon Man Awarded $157,500 over Police Mistreatment

by Christopher Zoukis

     Erik Pierce, a 32-year-old deaf man, was awarded $157,500 in damages from the city of Salem and Marion County, Oregon, over the use of excessive force and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by local and county police.

     On December 25, 2005, Pierce was spending the day with his family at his aunt's house in Keizer, Oregon. Shortly after 7 p.m., Christopher Betts called 911 to report that Pierce, who he explained was "hearing impaired and has some mental issues," had swung at and pushed his sister, had his sister's car keys, and was headed toward the location of her car.

     The dispatch operator who received the call, Ms. T. Young, failed to inform the responding officers of the man's hearing or mental health issues. Keizer Police Officer Grant Zaitz spotted Pierce walking along the road, parked his vehicle, and stepped out to intercept him. Zaitz yelled numerous commands to Pierce, which he did not respond to, so the officer grabbed him. A struggle ensued in which four additional officers joined. Pierce was shot with a Taser multiple times.

     Pierce was arrested and taken to Marion County Jail. He said that while he was in custody, he was treated less favorably because of his deafness and disabilities. The jail failed to provide reasonable accommodation for communication and for his disabilities and refused to provide an interpreter. He was never advised of his rights as a person with disability, including his right to request and receive reasonable accommodations. Pierce was placed in a restraint chair, deprived of adequate medical care and treatment, as well as his basic human needs. Pierce argued that he was traumatized by the fear of not knowing what was going on, why he was there, how long he would be held, how to communicate with his family and by not being able to communicate with anyone around him.

     Pierce filed a complaint in federal court against Officer Zaitz, Jeffrey Goodman, the city and the county, alleging excessive force, facial and shoulder injuries and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A verdict in favor of Pierce resulted in $50,000 from the city of Salem, and $107,500 from Marion County.

      The case later settled for the lesser amount of $58,000 ($25,500 against Salem and $32,500 against Marion County), with the provision that the Marion County Correctional Facility must provide ADA rights in writing to deaf prisoners admitted into custody and qualified American Sign Language interpreters during intake and release.

See: Pierce v. City of Salem d/b/a/ Willamette Valley Communications Center, et al., United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Case No. 3:06-cv-01715-KI (Oct. 14, 2009)

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Related legal case

Pierce v. City of Salem d/b/a/ Willamette Valley Communications Center, et al.