Jamestown, North Dakota – Christine Stein was wrongfully arrested and jailed after calling 9-1-1 to seek help from law enforcement, because she is deaf. To ensure this never happens again, she has filed suit in federal court alleging that the Supreme Court of North Dakota, the North Dakota State Court Administration, the City of Jamestown, Stutsman County, Chief Judge Gerald VanWalle, and Judge Timothy Ottmar discriminated against her on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In a separate, but concurrently filed federal lawsuit, Stein alleges that the City of Jamestown and Officer Brian Davis violated her Constitutional rights in arresting her without probable cause.
On May 25, 2015, Stein dialed 9-1-1 through a relay system that uses sign language interpreters and sought assistance with a suicidal man in her apartment. Rather than providing the needed assistance, law enforcement disregarded the suicidal man and instead improperly arrested and jailed Stein. Stein repeatedly requested that law enforcement, jail personnel, and the court system provide sign language interpreters so that she could communicate effectively but all of these entities denied her requests. Without ever being provided with an opportunity to make a call to her employer or her loved ones, Stein was held in solitary confinement and then forced to appear in court without any means of communication.
After her release, Stein again sought assistance from the Jamestown Police to evict the suicidal and unwanted guest who remained in her home. However, the police again refused to help. For two weeks Ms. Stein was unable to return to her home because the man remained in her apartment against her wishes. The police only agreed to assist and evict the unwanted guest when Ms. Stein brought a hearing person with her to the police station to help communicate the situation. With communication cleared up, all criminal charges were ultimately dropped against Stein.
Federal law requires all public entities to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. The failure to provide any means of communication is discrimination based on disability.
“The police and courts are supposed to render assistance to all citizens including those who are deaf, especially with protecting them in their own homes,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf which represents Stein along with Gilbert Law and Stein & Vargas, LLP. “We are pursuing this case to ensure that never again will a deaf person feel unsafe in their own home, or be arrested for seeking police assistance.”
Heather Gilbert is an attorney as well as a court-certified interpreter. She is the President of Gilbert Law PLLC, a deaf-friendly law firm based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and, for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.
Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights firm based in Washington, D.C. and committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society.