Deaf ex-inmate files complaint against jail

He alleges rights were violated; he seeks damages, plus injunctive relief to force changes at facility

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter



A deaf former jail inmate has filed a federal complaint against Clark County alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act and the United States Code.

Eric Jacob Studer, 42, is seeking $200,000 in damages, as well as injunctive relief to force the Clark County Jail to fully accommodate inmates who are deaf or hearing impaired.

The complaint and demand for a jury trial was filed Dec. 2 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by Roggendorf Law of Lake Oswego, Ore., and Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala of Tacoma.

The complaint alleges that the jail discriminated against Studer, who is fluent in American Sign Language, and all inmates who are deaf.

Studer contends that the county knew he was deaf prior to December 2013 based on his several prior incarcerations; yet, jail staff still failed to accommodate him.

Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop said Wednesday that he cannot comment on the specifics of the case.

“However, the Clark County Jail works diligently to accommodate inmates with disabilities and recently adopted new procedures relating to the accommodations of hearing impaired inmates,” he said.

According to the complaint, Studer can perceive some sound through the use of hearing aids. However, they do not work well for communicating via electronic devices, such as intercoms and telephones. And on at least one occasion, he said, he was arrested and brought to the jail without his hearing aids.

When Studer was unable to comply with instructions, jail staff forcibly took him to the floor and assaulted him, the complaint states.

During his confinement at the jail, he said, he suffered severe emotional injury and was at risk for physical injury. With no means to communicate, Studer was placed in a form of involuntary and unwarranted solitary confinement, the complaint says.

Among his grievances, Studer argues that the jail failed to:

• Offer an ASL interpreter at booking to explain jail procedures, activities and schedules, as well as interpreter services for inmates in the general population and during jail activities.

• Allow telephone access for the deaf and hard-of-hearing at booking and in general population areas equal to hearing inmates, including the use of a teletype machine, video phone or the use of a toll-free relay service.

• Provide a means for deaf inmates to receive jail announcements while in general population.

• Provide consistent use of closed captioning for television and other entertainment.

• Provide deaf-compatible instructions for movements at and inside the jail.

• Train jail staff on how to communicate and interact with deaf inmates and visitors.

• Allow deaf inmates to communicate with visitors in a manner equal to that afforded to hearing inmates.

• Require medical staff or third party agents to be trained in ASL.

The complaint states that the jail had ASL interpreters, closed captioning, flashing mounted wall lights and scrolling banners for announcements available for its use. The county also could purchase, lease or rent teletype machines and video phone units, the complaint says.

Studer is seeking injunctive relief against the county to put these things in place.

He also wants on-call interpreters throughout the booking process, all meetings with jail and court staff and counsel, and at jail activities, as well as training for jail employees.