In addition to a $250,000 settlement to the victim, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will be forced to implement $300,000 worth of new equipment and policy changes after failing to provide adequate communication services to Abreham Zemedagegehu, a deaf Ethiopian man.
Zemedagegehu was arrested in 2014 for stealing an iPad based on an accusation that was later recanted. Zemedagegehu was held in Arlington’s jail for six months. Zemedagegehu cannot read or write in English and had requested access to an American sign language interpreter or other video communication services, but was denied.
Now, as part of the settlement, Chief Deputy Paul Larson said the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is working through Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance standards to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again.
Much of the cost went to installing a wireless network throughout the jail. The project was already underway to assist with records management, but Larson said the lawsuit forced the Sheriff’s Office to broaden the coverage to allow easier communication throughout the facility.
The Sheriff’s Office’s reforms are in four stages: those that will be implemented within 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and 120 days.
Larson said the Sheriff’s Office already meets many of the 30-day requirements, like having an ADA coordinator. In early fall, staff at the Sheriff’s Office also underwent new training for handling inmates with disabilities. Other implementations are new, like increased signage throughout the facility.
The Sheriff’s Office will also have to provide optional armbands to inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing. Larson says the armbands are in stock but that the policy for them is still being developed.
Some of the longer term improvements include changes to the inmate handbook to inform deaf or hard of hearing inmates of their rights and the facility policies as well as a video to help those inmates understand the booking process.