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ACLU: Police using deaf woman’s kids to interpret a ‘clear’ ADA violation

A Facebook livestream showing North Las Vegas police using a deaf woman’s children as interpreters April 7 depicted a “clear violation” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a local American Civil Liberties Union attorney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“There could have been at least attempts to do a different form of communication in the interim while waiting for an interpreter,” Nikki Levy, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada, said of the video, which had garnered about 59,000 views as of Monday.

Andrea “Dre” Hollingsworth, who goes by Drizzy Breezy on Facebook, started the livestream when police pulled her over for what department spokesman Alexander Cuevas called an investigative stop on the 5400 block of Ragged Robin Court around 10:37 p.m.

As the video begins, an officer can be heard telling Hollingsworth and her daughters to get out of the car.

“Why does she have to do it?” one of her daughters asks. “Is there something wrong?”

“I’ll have you come with me so you can talk,” the officer replied.

The officer pulls Hollingsworth out of the car by the arm, according to the footage. Hollingsworth whispers that she does not know what is happening and cannot hear. He sits her down on a curb and tries to explain that a friend of hers called police and accused Hollingsworth of stalking her, the footage shows.

Cuevas said no charges were filed. He advised that the department has sign language and oral interpreting services available on call 24 hours a day, but he did not say why an interpreter was not called for Hollingsworth.

“You don’t often see violations that seem this clear,” Levy said of the encounter.

A request to speak with Hollingsworth was not returned Monday.

Roommate dispute

According to a police report on the encounter, Hollingsworth’s “ex-friend” Latina Jones called police to report that Hollingsworth was at her house harassing her and had been parked out front for about an hour and a half. Jones had left for a drugstore and was not home at the time, she told police.

The daughters told police that they had recently moved out of an apartment and were trying to get $200 back in rent money owed to their mother after moving out, according to the video and the report.

In the report, Officer Michael Rose wrote that Hollingsworth made it clear that she was deaf but was “very uncooperative” and seemed to be focused on her livestream. He described her use of American Sign Language as “constant erratic hand movements” and said her car was full of belongings, so he could not tell if she had a weapon.

One of the girls translated for Hollingsworth, who stood up and frantically tried to deny the accusations, according to the footage. When Hollingsworth would not sit down, the officer wrote in the report that he grabbed her arm and pushed her to the ground, where he handcuffed her as her daughters cried and she apologized, saying that she could not hear him or read his lips, the footage showed.

“Settle down, stop this,” the officer can be heard saying to the crying girls. “One of you guys needs to talk some sense into her, so someone needs to calm down and talk some sense into her.”

Alleged ADA violations

A GoFundMe page organized by Pro Bono ASL Interpreting had raised $11,500 as of Sunday night with the intention of helping to cover legal fees that may stem from the encounter, counseling for Hollingsworth’s daughters and funds to cover food and rent, according to the page.

In a description about the fundraiser, the organization wrote that it considered the events depicted in Hollingsworth’s video to be “in direct violation” of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Children should never be forced into interpreting for their parents, especially in such high stakes situations,” the organization wrote.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has a law enforcement guide for when officers come into contact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It requires that communication with such residents be just as effective as communication with hearing people.

Officers are instructed to provide interpreters, written notes or computers to adequately communicate, according to the guide — whichever method that the person with whom they are communicating with is most comfortable.

In the police report, the officer wrote that he “assumed they were relaying my message” when Hollingsworth’s daughters used sign language to communicate with her.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said in a statement Monday that family members should never be used as interpreters, especially when police departments have professionals available.

“Family members, including minor children, are inherently not impartial and often do not possess the requisite training or vocabulary to interpret effectively or accurately,” Rosenblum said. “To rely on children to interpret is extremely risky — not only is it automatically ineffective communication under federal law, but it is often very traumatizing for the children and the parent.”

‘Invisible disability’

David Kelsey, who teaches deaf studies at Nevada State College, said this is the first time that he has seen such an encounter in the 20 years that he has lived in Las Vegas, though he has seen similar instances in other communities across the country.

He said it is never appropriate to call on a child to interpret, especially in high-pressure scenarios with police, doctors or lawyers.

“I’d like to see the department get more involved in the deaf community and become more educated,” Kelsey, who is deaf, said through an interpreter. “It can make a make a really big impact, especially if the community recognizes that the police department is more involved and also getting some signing experience.”

ASL Social Las Vegas, a Facebook group Kelsey helped organize, regularly hosts community events that encourage hearing people to learn more about the deaf community. Most events are currently hosted on Zoom, but the group hopes to resume in-person events this summer.

Rorri Burton, founder of Southern California-based Pro Bono ASL Interpreting, which created the GoFundMe page, said that deaf people, particularly deaf people of color, are at high risk of discrimination from police, adding that it can go unnoticed because hearing impairment is an “invisible disability.”

“You would never see a video of an officer throwing someone out of their wheelchair; people would be all in a rage about that protocol because that person has a physical disability, so an officer would never do that,” she said. “Yet people who use ASL are denied their rights so often, even when it’s still a disability that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Contact Alexis Ford at aford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter.

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