Society

Deaf Man Donald Pratt, 76, Handcuffed By Sheriff's Deputies, Wins $62,000 Settlement From County

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When Donald Pratt was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in Birch Bay, Wash., on Aprl 21, 2011, the 76-year-old man was placed in the back of a police car -- in handcuffs.

Nothing unusual about that. Except for one thing. Pratt is deaf. Because he communicates only through use of American Sign Language, the handcuffs were tantamount to gagging him. They left him unable to communicate for what he says was more than two hours -- though deputies said it was more like half an hour.

The cuffs left him unable to even ask to use a bathroom. As a result, Pratt, who suffers from diabetes, soiled himself in the police cruiser.

Pratt sued and last week, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay him $62,000 as compensation.

It probably didn’t help that the charge against Pratt, that he aimed a loaded gun at his wife, Linda, was completely false.  The domestic abuse tale had been fabricated by the couple’s adult son, Tom, as retaliation for his parents booting him out of the house and refusing to lend him their mobile home.

Both Linda Pratt and Tom Pratt are also deaf.

In the lawsuit, Donald Pratt alleged that even when they realized he was deaf and found an ASL interpreter, they refused to remove Pratt’s handcuffs, rendering him incapable of communicating with the interpreter. They also, the lawsuit charged, shined a light directly in his eyes causing him to be unable to clearly read the interpreter’s signs.

Deputies said that they were unaware of Pratt’s sanitary accident in the car, but Pratt’s attorney is adamant that it happened, only because he could not make the reasonable request to use a restroom.

“There’s no reason for him to say that," said Larry Hildes. "It was very embarrassing.”

As a result of the case, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department has revised its policy on handling deaf suspects, requiring the department to maintain a list of qualified sign language interpreters and recognizing that handcuffing a defa person whose only language is ASL, “can have the same behavioral and psychological effects of gagging a hearing person.”

SOURCES: Bellingham Herald, The Northern Light Newspaper