David Updike, who was born deaf, spent two nights in jail, communicating with jail deputies, a jail nurse and later a pretrial services officer through written notes, according to trial testimony. (The Oregonian/OregonLive/File)
A federal jury on Wednesday found Multnomah County violated the rights of a deaf Gresham man after failing to provide him with an American Sign Language interpreter or other accommodation while he was an inmate.
The eight-member jury deliberated for only about an hour after a three-day trial and awarded $125,000 in damages to David Updike.
Two American Sign Language interpreters sat in front of U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon’s bench facing Updike and took turns signing throughout the trial. After the verdict was announced, Updike, 52, signed ‘Thank you, thank you’’ to the jury.
Updike’s lawyer Daniel Snyder argued that the county failed to provide accommodations for Updike’s deafness while he was at the county’s downtown Portland jail and Inverness Jail in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Updike, who was born deaf to hearing parents, can’t read lips proficiently and doesn’t read English well, a linguistics expert testified.
On Jan. 14, 2013, Gresham police responded to a disturbance at his home involving Updike and another person who is deaf. Officers didn’t call an interpreter to the scene and instead obtained statements in writing from Updike and the other person. Police arrested Updike and booked him into the Multnomah County Detention Center on allegations of fourth-degree assault and harassment.
County jailers didn’t call an American Sign Language interpreter or make other accommodations to help communicate with Updike during his two nights in jail even though there are special telecommunication devices, text telephones and video relay phones available for aiding deaf people and the county contracts with companies that provide interpreters.
Instead, they relied on written notes passed between sheriff’s deputies and Updike and later between a pretrial release officer and Updike.