The Somerville Police Department has agreed to call a sign language interpreter when dealing with deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals as a part of an agreement settling a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed by a deaf Somerville woman, alleged discrimination against the borough and its police department. The woman also received $10,000 as part of the agreement, which came with no admission of liability.

Daisy Ortiz, who is profoundly deaf, sued the police department and Somerset County Jail alleging she was not provided an interpreter during a traffic stop after being detained on a parking ticket warrant in 2017.

he agreement to have the Somerville Police Department obtain sign language interpreters when needed was made Jan. 27, according to court records. The $10,000 payment was agreed upon Feb. 4.

“When it is determined that a sign language interpreter is required,” the Somerville Police Department “shall make affirmative efforts to obtain a qualified sign language interpreter as soon as possible,” the agreement says.

The interpreter can be someone who is on staff or someone who the police department chooses to call.

“For emergent situations, or those out in the field when an onsite interpreter is not available, police officers shall use written notes, charts, and diagrams,” the agreement says.

In those situations, if between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, police officers will now be required to take immediate steps to get a remote interpreter by contacting the state Division of the Deaf interpreter referral service.

n her lawsuit, which was in November 2018, Ortiz alleged she was “ignored, humiliated and treated like a non-person” by police officers and guards at the Somerset County Jail.

The lawsuit, filed by Hamilton lawyer Clara Smit, whose website says she is the first New Jersey attorney to specialize in deaf rights cases, claimed that authorities ignored Ortiz’s attempts at communication and requests to have an interpreter so she could understand what was happening.

On July 31, 2017, Bridgewater police pulled Ortiz over for a traffic violation.

She tried to tell the officer she was deaf and to communicate with her in writing, but when she attempted to tell him she had left her license and registration at home, the officer decided to have her car towed. Ortiz thought she was going to be permitted to take her support dog and either walk home or find a ride.

When a Somerville officer arrived at the scene to assist, it was discovered that Ortiz was wanted on a warrant from Somerville for an unpaid parking ticket dating back to 2014, the suit says.

The Somerville police officer then arrested her on the warrant and took her to police headquarters. But during the ride, the lawsuit said, she became “very confused” because she thought the officers were taking her home.

When police passed her street, Ortiz tried to communicate with the officers, but they “ignored” her and she refused to get out of the police car when they arrived at police headquarters because she did not know why she had been arrested.

When she left the patrol car and was taken inside headquarters, Ortiz became “extremely agitated” and “very upset” because of her “extreme frustration and aggravation” at not being able to communicate with police and her dog had been taken away. 

The police report, the lawsuit says, called Ortiz’s behavior “erratic and destructive” while she was in the holding cell and officers were unable to remove her from the cell for questioning or photographing.

After Ortiz was taken to the Somerset County Jail and put into another cell, she became “even more upset” because she had “no idea” what was happening because she did not have an interpreter and was worried about her dog. At that point, the lawsuit charges, she was sedated “without her consent” and “blacked out.”