WASHINGTON (ABC7) — On Friday the U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement in which a deaf man who said he was improperly treated in the Arlington County jail will receive $250,000.
As part of the settlement the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office also agreed to make changes in the way people with disabilities are dealt with at the jail.
Abreham Zemedagegehu had no permanent address when he was arrested in February 2014 while trying to spend the night at Reagan National Airport.
The arrest was connected to an allegation Zemedagegehu had stolen an Ipad. The allegation turned out to be false.
In an announcement of the settlement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is under the Justice Dept., it says that Zemedagegehu wound up staying at the Arlington County Detention Center for 40 days.
During that time the U.S. Attorney’s Office says the sheriff’s office violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to provide sign language interpreters and other services.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of Zemedagegehu says for more than 24 hours he didn’t even know why he was under arrest. It says the jail’s failure to provide interpreters caused Zemedagegehu to often not know what was going on. The lawsuit says he missed some meals and recreation times because he didn’t hear an alarm alerting inmates they could leave their cells.
Zemedagegehu is an immigrant from Ethiopia who came to the U.S. in 2001 and became a citizen in 2008. The lawsuit says that he is unable to read English writing well and didn’t understand when officers tried to communicate to him in writing, instead repeatedly asking for an interpreter.
In a statement Friday, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office says it has made changes to make sure it complies with the ADA.
The sheriff’s office says it began making changes in August of last year. Part of its statement read:
“Technology in the detention facility has been upgraded to ensure that all individuals can communicate effectively. In the spring of 2016, the Sheriff’s Office completed extensive ADA training for all staff and contractors. Annual ADA training will be conducted to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office remains in compliance with the ADA.”
Zemedagegehu’s attorney Jon Goodrich said his client didn’t want to do interviews about the settlement, emailing ABC7 the following statement:
“Abreham is thrilled with the result, in particular with the changes in policies at the facility that will ensure that in the future other deaf people can effectively communicate while there. Abreham continues to keep this ordeal in his rear view mirror, and wishes not to dwell on the trauma that he endured.”