A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a deaf jail inmate who claimed his civil rights were violated when he was incarcerated in the Terrebonne Parish jail.
David E. Warmack, 54, of Caddo Parish, was arrested on July 3, 2018, in Terrebonne following a traffic stop, according to court records. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, DWI and other traffic violations.
Warmack was booked into the Terrebonne Parish jail, where he remained until Nov. 13, 2018, before being transferred to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. He was released on March 21, 2019.
During his incarceration in the Terrebonne jail, Warmack claimed jail employees failed to provide sign language interpreters or any “effective auxiliary aids and services to facilitate adequate communication” between him and the staff.
Though the jail was equipped with regular telephones for the general inmate population, Warmack claimed the staff refused to provide him a video phone and ignored his request regarding his communication needs.
Warmack filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on July 3, 2019, against Sheriff Jerry Larpenter and Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government. The complaint alleges jail staff violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Based on Plaintiff’s allegations herein, it is evident that Defendants have failed to implement policies and to train their employees regarding the civil rights and communication needs of deaf individuals,” wrote Baton Rouge attorney Dominick M. Bianca, who represents Warmack in the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs bring this action to compel Defendants to cease unlawful discriminatory practices and implement policies and procedures that will ensure effective communication, full and equal enjoyment and a meaningful opportunity for deaf individuals to participate in and benefit from Defendants’ services.”
The plaintiffs demanded a trial by jury, compensatory damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees.
“Although the installation of the video relay service system was not accomplished until Nov. 13, 2018, the date Plaintiff was transferred from the (jail) to the Elayne Hunt Correctional facility, Defendants still attempted to provide Plaintiff with accommodations,” the judge wrote in his decision. “Additionally, Plaintiff was able to communicate with the (jail) staff without the need for an ASL-qualified interpreter during his entire incarceration. The undisputed facts show that Plaintiff will not be able to establish that he was denied the benefits of a public entity’s services, programs or activities, or otherwise suffered intentional discrimination by the Defendants.”
Attorney Bill Dodd, who represents Larpenter, agreed with the judge’s ruling.
“This was the first deaf inmate anyone could ever remember being incarcerated at the Terrebonne Parish jail,” Dodd said. “It was also the first time anyone filed a complaint like this. But this facility is way ahead of a number of facilities in the state in making accommodations for people with all types of physical disabilities. The phone company we had at the time was able to come up with a system that this inmate wanted. We’re always trying to do something better to show that we’re accommodating to people with issues. The court saw that what we had at the time and that how we accommodated him was fair and not a violation of his civil rights. We fully complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
In a ruling handed down on May 12, U.S. District Judge Greg Gerard Guidry granted the sheriff’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Warmack’s claims with prejudice, meaning the dismissal is final.