Law

And then there are days when things don’t go right


Today I went to yet another small town hospital to get ready for a day surgery on Monday.  Totally different experience.  I’m still saying “I’m functionally Deaf” and “I can’t hear you” and “Are you talking to me? Because you’re talking to a computer screen (or the wall or a binder), not to me.”  Some folks were standing 10 feet away talking at me (certainly not to me since I couldn’t hear a bloody thing).

Now, mind you, this hospital has signs all over about providing free interpreter services for the Deaf, but there was not one person there who had a clue. I ended up not responding. I’d make them say it 57 times until I understood it.  I kept repeating, “I’m functionally Deaf.”  Oh gee, there’s that D word again – the Deaf word.  I kept wondering what part of “I can’t hear you” is that hard to comprehend?

I kid you not, the receptionist, registration, insurance, volunteer, R.N. – you name it – they were all in the Ozone. SMH – this place is a law suit waiting to happen.

So it took about four times as long as it had to take because I got my back up and refused to do their work for them.  I’ve heard this place is lousy regarding service provision (apparently so) and yet it is owned by the same mega corporation that owns the great little ER in Ayer, MA.

The day surgery center is there and I wanted to get the surgery done in 2013 so I’m stuck with the place. But when we go there I’m going to make sure my daughter is front and center and making sure everyone is doing what they need to do the way she did when I got hurt last May.

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When is enough enough?


This isn’t about deafness, but it could be since deafness is isolating.  Instead, this is about what amounts to medieval torture.  Throw him in a goal or oubliette and ignore until dead.  

You know, there are many very dangerous people in this world and a lot of them are out walking the streets. There are people who have killed multiple times in prison and this is not happening to them.

What does it say about us that we can allow something like this to continue?  This isn’t about his innocence or his guilt – because his guilt has been determined.  It is about a total lack of humanity in those of us who know about this and let it continue.  Once abuse is uncovered, everyone who does not stand against it is culpable for its continuation.

I am appalled.  We would not treat a mad dog like this.  This is something Saddam Hussein would do.  What does that say about our criminal justice system?  

From The Colorado Independent

Appeals court to weigh how much is too much solitary confinement

Tommy Silverstein has spent 15,778,470 minutes and counting alone in tiny cement boxes at prisons like ADX in Colorado. Uncle Sam says those 30 years in isolation haven’t harmed him.

Silverstein described the terror of being in the Atlanta cell while a construction crew added more bars and security

From The Colorado Independent Story on this Case

measures around him.

“In order not to be burned by sparks and embers while they welded more iron bars across the cell, I had to lie on my bed and cover myself with a sheet. It is hard to describe the horror I experienced during this construction process. As they built new walls around me it felt like I was being buried alive.”

 ….

The Bureau’s claim that 30 years in isolation haven’t harmed Silverstein. Experts who have evaluated him have found extensive evidence of depression, cognitive impairment, memory loss, hallucinations, severe anxiety disorder, panic attacks that make his him breathless and shaky in the company of others, and paranoia that leads him to hear voices whispering to him through vents.

I do not condone this man’s actions, his neo-nazi leanings or any other behavior he has engaged in.  However, we cannot do this to another sentient individual.  We simply cannot do this and remain human ourselves.  

Please read the article.  This isn’t punishment.  This is torture.  Pure and simple.  People think that a sentence of death is a deterrent. It is an escape to someone like this man. 

Why we must care about police conduct


from the Robert Tanenbaum Website

Echos of My Soul by Robert K. Tanenbaum should be required reading for every American. Why?  Because this case is exactly why there are activist groups challenging prosecutions and convictions.

Few Americans have any concept of how easy it is for the police to extract a false confession. In the case detailed in this book, it isn’t even that the police were corruptly attempting to pin a murder on a young black adult man, George Whitmore, Jr. with an IQ below 70.  The police were so zealous, so intent, and so wiling to believe he was THE ONE that they made him THE ONE.

from the New York Times

We tend to forget that by going after the innocent and fixating on an easy target that we let the person who actually committed the crimes run free and commit more. George Whitmore Jr.’s mistake was in talking to a police officer, telling him that he saw the police chasing the actual murderer, and then telling the officer where that man went.  There is a reason many people in crime-ridden neighborhoods are afraid to talk with the police, and being targeted while innocent is one of them.

Anyone who is not a cop is at a decided disadvantage in a police interrogation.  I have worked hand in glove with the cops and I appreciate the good they do and the tough situations they face.  That being said, if I were on the receiving end of questioning by the police I’d be apprehensive and looking for a lawyer ASAP.

If arrested, or even taken in for questioning, the best thing to do is to refuse to speak with the police until you have a lawyer present. Then remember that each time you say something to the police that you have to invoke your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present all over again. It isn’t easy to do.  Police detectives are the masters of silence.  People want to fill in the silences and they also think that if they can just talk long enough and explain enough and attempt to please the officer enough that everything will be okay.  Rarely is it okay if you’re cooling your heels downtown.

In particular, individuals with a low IQ, people who are deaf – as well as those who are not native English speakers, people who are mentally ill, people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol – and more – are all vulnerable.  Long interrogations which result in sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and water, as well as physical and mental abuse can lead to false confessions. Even the questions that are asked and the accusations which are made can lead to false confessions.  It can’t be said too often that the police are allowed to lie to the suspect about evidence they do not have, confessions of alleged co-defendants that never took place, and so on and so forth.

There are too many innocent people in the criminal justice system, in jails, in prisons, on probation, on parole.  There are a lot of folks who have made false confessions or plead out because they felt they had no other option, even though they were innocent of the crime with which they were charged.  And when we take the innocent it means that the person who is actually guilty is still out there.

If juries had any idea how much exculpatory evidence is suppressed they’d be stunned.  That’s right – not all evidence comes in.  Evidence on both sides can and is excluded for a variety of reasons from rape shield laws protecting rape victims to being too inflammatory.  Having sat in on criminal trials and hearing exculpatory evidence being excluded is chilling. How can the jury get it right if there is documentation that the witness lied or that the evidence is not what it seems to be?  However, the tendency of the jury to automatically decide the defendant must be guilty or the case would never have gotten this far tends to make me wonder if exculpatory evidence would be ignored anyway unless it was overwhelming in nature.

In America we talk a good game about defendants being considered innocent until proven guilty, but in a media driven society – more so now than ever – many people are tried and convicted before they ever get to a courtroom. Most Americans who sit on juries figure that if the system has gotten that far the person MUST be guilty… right?  And, admittedly, sometimes the only real question facing a jury is just what level of crime the individual committed when the prosecution and the defense cannot agree to a plea bargain.

Felix Garcia was a vulnerable person snared into the criminal justice system.This is why people who cannot understand the consequences of their statements should not be making them.  This is why we must provide a high standard for accepting statements. And while I understand how staggeringly overworked the prosecution is these days, we can’t afford to have standards lower than that of the legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan or Assistant District Attorney Mel Glass.

I am not saying that individuals with low IQ’s, with literacy or language deprivation, etc. can never be guilty of a crime.  Certainly, everyone has a breaking point and can do something wrong.  However, it is also true that not everyone is guilty of the crime they’ve been convicted of nor do some people understand the ramifications of their actions.

Studies  indicate that our prisons are now warehouses for the cognitively impaired, the mentally ill, the deaf, and other groups who are particularly vulnerable.  Prisons are not suitable places to house those groups.  If an impaired prisoner is actually guilty, there needs to be another form of confinement where the prisoner is provided with rehabilitative care while protecting the community. A psychotic who hears voices needs to be in a controlled medical/psychiatric environment, not a general prison population. A deaf person who is neither literate in English nor fluent in ASL needs habilitation to the point they can participate in their own defense and not railroaded into prison.

Take the challenge. Read the book. Get a look at how wrong it all can go. Then look me in the eye and tell me why you think that we should let Texas continue to execute people who are seriously “mentally retarded” by manipulating what mental retardation (cognitively impaired) means.  Have a conversation with yourself, your higher power/God, your neighbors, your friends.  What if this were you, your son, your brother, your friend? Could never happen to you?  Don’t be so sure.

Articles on George Whitmore, Jr.

NYTimes

The Career Girl Murders – Crime Library 

The Innocence Project 

The Boston Globe

Shouting Won’t Help


I’ve been perusing the book Shouting Won’t Help by Katherine Bouton and am fascinated by it.  I’m pondering buying a copy when I give this one back to the library. I’m sure it will spawn dozens of commentaries.  Today’s is from page 22, paragraph 3.  “I hear voices, but I don’t always hear words.

Oh, if only…

I suppose this is time to plug the book Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks because the hearing impaired/Hard of Hearing/or previously hearing deaf can literally hear voices that are not there without being mentally ill. But I digress…

In certain situations I hear voices.  In others I do not.  I have had people become angry (sometimes exceedingly so) with me for not responding when they spoke to me. I’ve been called snobbish, arrogant, stubborn, disobedient, and rude as well as  less savory terms. The problem is that unless I know someone is going to speak to me, I may not “hear” them speaking.  Oh, I may “hear” noise (in the environmental sense), but it is likely to mean very little to me unless it is a very loud, abrupt noise.  Or I may know a specific person is speaking, but have no idea that I’m the intended recipient of the communication so it is still just background noise to me.

On the other hand, in some situations where there is a sudden cessation of background noise or just the right angle of the moon and stars, I can hear something I would normally never be able to hear.  Then folks think I am lying about my hearing loss.  It begs the question of who would lie about being half-deaf.   My daughter used to accuse me of faking being deaf when I would accidentally catch her saying something she should not have been saying.  Ah, well, that’s kids for you.  I suppose she never toted up the 50 zillion times she got away with saying things I never heard.

If someone wants to talk with any hard of hearing person they need to get the person’s attention first and then speak directly to them. Other than that, it is just a bunch of lip-flapping going on and most of the late deafened figure the lip flapping is not directed at them. Either that or we’re hyper vigilant and figure everything is directed towards us – which is an exhausting experience.

In fact, when I do respond to something I think is being directed at me I’m often not the intended recipient of the communication and what I heard was not what was said.  For instance, “Where’s John?” becomes “Where’s Mom?”  Then I find out I wasn’t the intended recipient of the question anyway, which confuses matters further.  How do “hearies” sort all this out, anyway?  I have no idea.  Is there a secret handshake or something?

Let’s move on to the issue of words.  If I do hear a voice, and I’m engaging in an attempt to hear and understand, we still have the issue of words.  I suspect the words “John/Mom” don’t sound alike to hearing folks, but they do to me.  Not only is there word confusion, such as when I was a child and thought a cobweb was a cowweb, but even focusing on what is being said, lip-reading with all my might, I often miss entire words or parts of them so that I’m left grasping at verbal straws. Sometimes my brain will fill in the blanks correctly.  Sometimes I’ll stop, think about what I believe I heard, then realize it could not be possible, then say, “Eh?” “Excuse me?” “Could you say that again?” “What?” or variations on that theme. I’ve been told I get a blank look as I’m trying to put the words together, which precedes one of three options: a question to clarify, an agreement coupled with a “deaf nod,” or  a non sequitur response.

I’ve been known to repeat a sentence to the point of the missing word and then asking the person to spell it if the precise communication is necessary.  In professional situations it is often necessary to understand exactly what was said rather than getting an approximation. It is one of the reasons that when using Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART), which uses word modules for Court Reporting,  I will go mildly whacko if a word module needed is not on board and a similar, but incorrect, word is substituted.   I was once at a deposition with Legal Interpreters and CART where I found I needed BOTH in order to follow what was being asked of the deponent because the CART operator was missing a few words in her modules and the substitutions were nonsensical to me.

I am totally deaf on the left side, like Ms. Bouton.  I have a hearing aid for the right side.  With my hearing aid I can probably hear as well as a fully hearing person if they have both ears plugged and are trying to hear someone talking to them while they are taking a shower in the bathroom with the door closed.  Welcome to my world.

Ms. Bouton comments that dealing with the “hearing impaired” is difficult.  I find dealing with the hearing difficult.  Just a different perspective, I suppose.

Putting words in my mouth…


Every now and then I end up talking with a deaf activist who believes that the world in general has it out for the deaf.  Honestly, the world in general isn’t aware that the deaf exist or if they do know, it’s like we’re from some obscure country and no one can understand the lingo.

Almost every time I have conversations about deaf issues (always initiated by the other side) I end up with someone flinging statements at me like overcooked noodles.  “I bet you think all genetically deaf are stupid!”  Well, no, I really don’t.  There are ranges of individuals in the deaf community, from geniuses to people with profound mental impairments.

So then you think it is right to… (insert issue).  Well, I can see how the court would have something to say about the issues.  If it involves the long-term welfare of a child, and if specialists testify, and if the guardian ad litem supports certain actions, then I can understand a judge’s ruling.  I may or may not agree with it, but I can understand how the judge got there.

So have you ever represented a deaf person in (some very specific case).  Since it is the only case of its kind, no.  However, I’ve read as much of the record as I can get my hands on because I was interested.  It was one of those difficult cases where the judge basically decided based on expert testimony.

So you think all judges are right?  Well, I think most judges do the best they can with what they have. Until we are able to recruit gods and goddesses who are all powerful and all knowing to sit on the bench, we’re pretty much going to have to go with the best we’ve got – judges.

I find conversing with someone who is looking for a fight a great deal like trying to have a conversation with a runaway train.

I’m an observer of legal processes unless I’m involved in them.  I find the law fascinating and probably the reason I finished law school was because of that fascination.  Because I’m not involved in every case and because cases are often very complicated, I’m often more interested in learning more than in making judgment calls.  There are exceptions. And I know there is a minimum of two sides to every story – even when I want my story to be the right side.

My thought is that if one is attempting to persuade someone to their point of view, going on the attack is a poor way to do it.  So is calling names.  I’ve been called an audist as if that’s a swear word.  That’s fine…but as soon as the attacks and name calling start the battle to persuade is lost. I get annoyed, then bored, then I leave the vicinity and consider the antagonist a lost cause (at least at that time).

I’m very interested in making positive changes in how the deaf community is treated, however, I know the process requires someone on the inside of the hearing community – and I also know that you have to persuade others that your line of thinking is rational and productive while not trying to put a stake through anyone else’s heart. If I can persuade others of good will, perhaps they can tackle people they work with and have an impact – which will never happen if we lob grenades at each other from across a demarcation line.

Deaf Abuse in Florida Prisons


I’d have reblogged this, but it wasn’t an option.

Solitary Watch

In the a Florida prison called the Reception and Medical Center, a corrections officer appears at a cell door and begins mocking fake sign language to the man inside, who is deaf. Then he pulls Sam Hart out of the cell and escorts him for a haircut. After half his hair is shaved off one side of his head, the guard orders the haircutter to stop.

As Hart describes in a letter, the officer then says, “Look, not only is he deaf but now he even looks dumb.”

Hart, who was born hearing and can speak and read lips, replies, “Don’t play with me, I do not play with you and I do not disrespect you.”

“Fuck you,” says the officer. “Mother fucker.” The next day the same officer stops by Hart’s cell. “Did you get to show it to the warden, dummy?” he asks.

Please go to the link above to read the article.  Please contact HEARD and show support for real and pervasive issues in the prison system.

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.

Additional links include:

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