Friday, September 25, 2009

Deaf Minnesotan settles with two counties after being held in jail for months without sign language interpreter

From The Star-Tribune in Minnesota:

A 34-year-old deaf man has reached a legal settlement with two southern Minnesota counties regarding his contention that he sat in their jails for months and was denied access to a sign-language interpreter, his lawyer said Sept. 23.

Nobles County is paying $50,000 and Martin County $25,000 to Latell Cheney, 34, of Ames, Iowa, Minneapolis attorney Eric Hageman said.

"Hopefully, this settlement will provide the impetus for these two counties to reevaluate the services they have available to deaf inmates," Hageman said in a statement.

Martin County has made recent updates to its policy on providing an interpreter for hearing-impaired inmates, said Tanya Skow, assistant jail administrator.

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said his jail now supplies an interpreter in a timely manner to an inmate who requests one.

In March 2006, Chaney, living in Fairmont, Minn., at the time, was arrested after a dispute with the mother of his two sons. Chaney claimed that the mother and her boyfriend had pulled his oldest child, a 13-year-old from another relationship, from his car and sped off. Chaney pursued and was arrested after his car crashed into the other car. Chaney was charged with felony criminal assault and criminal damage.

Chaney, who has been deaf most of his life and has limited English comprehension, said the crash was an accident but that he was arrested and interrogated by police through handwritten notes, although he asked Martin County for an interpreter.

Chaney was in jail for six months, held in lieu of $50,000 bail. The bail eventually was reduced to $10,000. After advocates for the deaf complained that Chaney had been neglected by his public defender and treated unfairly, a Minneapolis law firm took the case pro bono. Chaney then received an interpreter just before his release.

In August 2007, Chaney was convicted on all charges. The charges were dismissed, however, when his conviction was overturned on appeal.