University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
view search results
page permalink
Case Name Zemedagegehu v. Arthur and related DOJ matter DR-VA-0002
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-00057-JCC-MSN ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
On January 15, 2015, a deaf, Ethiopian-born American citizen filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff sued the Arlington County Sheriff and Virginia Department of Corrections. The suit was brought under two federal statutes: Title II of the ... read more >
On January 15, 2015, a deaf, Ethiopian-born American citizen filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff sued the Arlington County Sheriff and Virginia Department of Corrections. The suit was brought under two federal statutes: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The plaintiff, represented by both private counsel and counsel from the National Association of the Deaf, sought compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

In the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was not provided with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters during his detention at the Arlington County Detention Facility (Detention Facility) following his arrest at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for allegedly stealing an iPad. Because the plaintiff is originally from Ethiopia, he struggles to understand, read, and write English. His primary way of communicating is through ASL. When he was arrested, the plaintiff attempted to ask for an ASL interpreter because he did not understand why he was being detained. The officers responded by writing notes to the plaintiff; however, he could not understand what they were writing.

Plaintiff remained at the Detention Center for approximately six weeks. During that time, he did not have access to an interpreter to communicate his dietary and medical needs. He also did not have access to a videophone to speak to his public defender. Throughout his stay at the Detention Center, plaintiff made multiple requests for interpreters and other services to allow him to communicate with the Detention Facility’s staff, but these requests were denied. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property in exchange for a sentence of time served. He later explained that he did not understand why he was arrested until he went to court and that he pleaded guilty only to get out of jail. His alleged victim — another deaf, homeless man who was sleeping at the airport — eventually withdrew the allegation, saying he had made a mistake and that the missing iPad had been found.

The defendants immediately moved to dismiss the claims. On April 28, 2015 Judge James C. Cacheris granted the state-level officials’ motion to dismiss and denied the sheriff’s motion to dismiss. The judge reasoned that the plaintiff’s allegations, if true, showed the sheriff did not do anything to accommodate the plaintiff’s disability under Title II of the ADA.

The plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint compelled the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate the case. The investigation substantiated the majority of the plaintiff’s allegations and uncovered the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office’s general failure to comply with the ADA. As a result, ACSO entered settlement negotiations with the Department of Justice (represented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia). On November 16, 2016, the ACSO signed a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. The agreement stipulated that Arlington County had to pay the plaintiff $250,000. Furthermore, the settlement required that ACSO take steps to better accommodate inmates with disabilities. ACSO agreed to, amongst other things, appoint employees to coordinate ADA compliance, modify policies/procedures to screen prisoners who have disabilities, provide additional auxiliary aids and interpretive services to inmates who are deaf or hearing disabled, and revamp procedures to keep track of services provided to prisoners. It will stay in effect for three years, after which the matter will be closed.

Back in the court case, on December 20, 2016, the court entered a voluntary dismissal.

Amelia Huckins - 01/24/2017


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Follow recruitment, hiring, or promotion protocols
Hire
Reasonable Accommodation
Training
Defendant-type
Corrections
Law-enforcement
Disability
Hearing impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Communication skills
Conditions of confinement
Language/ethnic/minority needs
Placement in detention facilities
Language
Other
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Arlington County
Plaintiff Description The plaintiff is a deaf, Ethiopian-born American citizen. In addition, the United States was involved in support of the plaintiff.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2015 - 2017
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
Links This Deaf Immigrant Was Ignored in Jail. Now He Will Get $250,000.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/deaf-man-wins-250000-settlement-from-arlington-jail/2016/11/18/f44f6fce-adc9-11e6-8b45-f8e493f06fcd_story.html?utm_term=.b8bcbe19a309
Written: Nov. 19, 2016
By: Rachel Weiner (The Washington Post)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
1:15-cv-57 (E.D. Va.)
DR-VA-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/20/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint
DR-VA-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/15/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint
DR-VA-0002-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/19/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [Motions to Dismiss] (2015 WL 1930539) (E.D. Va.)
DR-VA-0002-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/28/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and Elizabeth F. Arthur, In Her Official Capacity as the Arlington County Sheriff
DR-VA-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/16/2016
Source: U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section
Judges Cacheris, James Chris (FISC, E.D. Va.)
DR-VA-0002-0005 | DR-VA-0002-9000
Nachmanoff, Michael S. Court not on record [Magistrate]
DR-VA-0002-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Goodrich, Jonathan Graham (District of Columbia)
DR-VA-0002-0003 | DR-VA-0002-0004 | DR-VA-0002-9000
Gordon, Steven Eric (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-0001
Jackson, Caroline E. (Maryland)
DR-VA-0002-0003 | DR-VA-0002-0004
Patkin, Debra (California)
DR-VA-0002-0003 | DR-VA-0002-0004
Perez, Carolyn (District of Columbia)
DR-VA-0002-0004
Tanenbaum, Larry (District of Columbia)
DR-VA-0002-0003 | DR-VA-0002-0004
Wetzler, Lauren A. (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Arthur, Elizabeth F. (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-0001
Davidson, Nancy Hull (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-9000
Francuzenko, Alexander (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-9000
Parsons, John Michael (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-9000
Tramblian, Ara Loris (Virginia)
DR-VA-0002-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
view search results
page permalink

- top of page -