Hard of Hearing, Mentally Impaired Woman allegedly Battered by Police Officer

A news report on Fox News indicates that a 36-year-old woman who is hard of hearing and cognitively disordered was pulled over for using a cell phone and subsequently battered by a police officer in Federal Way, Washington.

This is an indication of how a minor traffic stop can go badly wrong for someone who is deaf of hard of hearing.  The woman reports not being able to adequately hear the officer so that she did not respond appropriately to his requests.  Further, her cognitive disorder appears to have contributed to her inability to understand what was required of her. In fact, she called 911 for help during her arrest according to KIROTV (note, the photo of facial trauma is disheartening).

There appears to be a need for a standardized card for a person who is hard of hearing to carry in the car to notify any officer of a hearing issue.  That might have done something to ameliorate the situation – or not, depending on the situation.

While it might be hard for those of us who are familiar with police work – or watch enough NYPD on the TV – to understand why the driver attempted to leave the scene and did not understand that she was doing something wrong, it is now apparent that she did not understand.

There is a subset of the deaf and hard of hearing community with cognitive impairment and these are very high risk individuals indeed when it comes to interactions with the police.  Their responses range from none at all (can’t hear you, don’t know you’re talking to me) to inappropriate (leaving the scene, engaging in a pushing/shoving match with the officer)

It is impossible to know if the officer overreached in this case.  It could be that he did, or that the driver’s failure to comply and fighting back against the officer (not a good thing) created this unfortunate response.  What it does teach us is that the hard of hearing or deaf who are cognitively impaired must be taught how to appropriately respond to the police – including not wandering off from the car.

This individual may well be able to have the case dismissed – assuming she has a competent defense attorney who is aware of the issues faced by the deaf and hard of hearing community.  No matter what, she’s paying a steep price for the use of  a cell phone in a car.

Why am I not bashing the police?  Because I don’t know the whole story. Because police work is difficult.  Police officers are injured routinely in arrest situations.  They are shot and sometimes killed.  I’ve worked with police officers and been thankful to have them with me for protection of myself and minor children.  I’ve also been frustrated with some of them due to lack of training or a lousy attitude.  It sounds like the second responding officer was needed to help control the situation.

It is not the outcome I’d like to see – if it had been, it would not be front page news.  On the other hand, no one died and this is a teachable moment for everyone.  I’m sorry to see the driver was injured and suffered a concussion, but she will live to drive another day, and so will the police.  Now let’s see what we can do to use this situation to bring awareness nationally.

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