On April 28, 2016, the disability rights group Disability Rights Florida brought this lawsuit against the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Miami-Dade), on behalf of two deaf persons (Plaintiffs A and B) who had been denied disability-accommodations by Miami-Dade. Plaintiffs alleged that despite knowing of plaintiffs’ disabilities, and despite judicial rulings ordering Miami-Dade to provide plaintiffs with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and other accommodations, Miami-Dade consistently failed to do so during their arrests, detentions, and court hearings. The suit is in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. §701 et seq.).
Both plaintiffs alleged that they were not provided with ASL interpreters during arrests. This was particularly detrimental because English, even in its written form, was a second language to plaintiffs. They were thus unable to effectively explain or understand complicated legal situations without an ASL interpreter or some other form of specialized communication aid. Plaintiff A alleged that on February 8, 2016, officers in an unmarked car drove to his home, and arrested him without an ASL interpreter, or indeed any communication whatsoever. Plaintiff B alleged that when was arrested on October 13, 2015, he was not provided an ASL interpreter during the arrest or during the recitation of his Miranda rights, and that he was then held at a police station for several hours with no ASL interpreter or other means of communication.
Both plaintiffs also allege that they were not given an ASL interpreter or adequate communication aids during pre-trial legal proceedings. Plaintiff A alleged that on July 9, 2012, when was given an ankle bracelet and sentenced to house-arrest as a condition for his pre-trial release, he was not given an ASL interpreter to explain the rules and regulations relating to his ankle-bracelet. On July 19, 2012, his ankle-bracelet registered an alert, and he was arrested again for violating the conditions of his house-arrest. Plaintiff A also alleged that he signed a waiver of presence agreement for pre-trial sounding and conferences without having an ASL interpreter or communication aid that would have enabled him to understand what signing that waiver meant. Plaintiff B in turn alleged that on October 14, 2015, and again on February 4, 2016 for a separate arrest, he wasn’t provided with an ASL interpreter during his bond hearings. Because of that, he was forced to rely for interpretation on his mother, who had only basic knowledge of sign language, which made presenting his legal case more difficult.
Plaintiff A further alleged that he was not given an ASL interpreter or adequate communication aids while incarcerated and during his probation. He alleged that Miami-Dade’s failure to provide him with an ASL interpreter or communication aids while he was in prison meant that he was unable to understand or participate in prison orientations, medical appointments, mental health appointments, disciplinary hearings, classification reviews, religious services, and educational programs. Moreover, Miami-Dade’s failure to provide either of those during his probation hearing meant that he had to rely on a court attorney as an interpreter to explain complicated legal matters to his own attorney, which made it impossible to speak to his attorney in private.
The plaintiffs sought: (1) a declaration that Miami-Dade violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; (2) a permanent injunction requiring Miami-Dade to end any practices, policies, and/or procedures that serve to deny plaintiffs equal access to Miami-Dade’s services; (3) enforcement and equitable relief to ensure that Miami-Dade continues to provide equal access to its services in the future; and (4) costs and attorneys’ fees. As of August 10, 2016, the case is in early stages. Miami-Dade has yet to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint, and the judge assigned to the case, Judge Jose E. Martinez, has yet to rule on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim. Ryan Berry - 08/10/2016