A deaf St. Paul man agreed Tuesday to a $230,000 settlement with Ramsey County over his jailing after a 2006 traffic stop.
Douglas Bahl (pictured), who claimed his rights were violated in the incident, and the county reached the agreement in federal court in St. Paul.
Under the deal, the county also agreed to change its jail procedures.
Bahl, a longtime sign-language trainer at St. Paul College, said police pepper-sprayed and beat him after refusing communication with him during the traffic stop. He was then jailed for three days.
In a lawsuit filed against the county in 2008, he said he was denied an interpreter to explain the charges against him, jail procedures and how he could be released.
According to the suit, Bahl also was given no special aids or devices to help him communicate with his family or attorney. His wife, who also is deaf, was in the hospital recovering from surgery at the time.
Police contended Bahl would not speak with the officers during the stop, grabbed an officer's jacket and punched and bit him.
Bahl was convicted in 2007 of misdemeanor obstructing legal process but acquitted of the more serious charge of obstructing legal process with force.
Jail officials said they offered Bahl use of a text-telephone device for the hearing-impaired, but he declined.
Tuesday's settlement stated that jail officials continued to deny Bahl's allegations.
Bahl's attorney, Roderick Macpherson III, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The settlement requires Ramsey County to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates have means of communication that is "equally as effective as that provided for arrestees who are not deaf or hard-of-hearing" and provide such "auxiliary aids and services...without charge."
The settlement also requires the county to contract with or hire qualified sign-language interpreters and guarantee their availability at all times - within an hour of the county's taking custody of an arrestee.
But the lawsuit adds that the jail's "Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Coordinator" - a new position - could determine "in writing that there is an equally effective means of communication or that the individual's request poses an undue financial or administrative burden." Such a statement would "include...the reason(s) for not providing the auxiliary aid the deaf or hard-of-hearing person requests."
The settlement also requires the jail to have a videophone, text-only cell phone and teletypewriter for inmates.
The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners signed off on the settlement Tuesday.
Randy Gustafson, Ramsey County sheriff's spokesman, said he would meet with jail officials today to determine what services the jail already offers and what changes need to be made.
Since the suit was filed, Gustafson said, changes have been made at the jail relating to talks with advocates for the hearing-impaired.
As for the new coordinator position, "It could be an existing staff member....We're trying to sort that one out," Gustafson said.
In 2008, then-Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher said changes already had been made at the jail, including video conferencing for those with sign-language skills, email and text messaging services for deaf inmates. Fletcher said his department had secured contracts to make sure sign-language interpreters are available within four hours of the time someone is taken into custody.
The settlement gives Bahl and his wife, Susan Kovacs-Bahl, who joined him in the lawsuit, $57,500. Their attorneys, the Minnesota Disability Law Center, will receive $172,000.
The Bahls also have sued the St. Paul police department for officers' actions during the traffic stop; that suit is ongoing.
Monday, December 26, 2011
The St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
Posted by BA Haller at 9:07 PM