Police officers beating deaf people and getting away with it

[All cases in this article were carefully reviewed by Ocala Post.]

In the last five years the number of police brutality cases in the U.S have more than doubled.

YouTube reports police brutality video uploads in the tens of thousands, majority of the uploads are raw dash cam videos that have been released by a victim’s attorney or the media.

The most recent addition to the long list of brutality cases, is violence by law enforcement toward deaf people who have been brutally assaulted by police officers for what has been described by officers as “failure to respond to officers’ verbal commands, aggressive hand signaling, or resisting arrest.”

Two years ago, Robert Kim pulled over to fix a flat tire just before slipping into a diabetic episode. He was seated on the grass when female officer Leah Hall pulled up and said “what’s your problem?” Kim tried to make the officer aware of the fact that he was deaf, that he had trouble speaking, and that he was in diabetic shock.

Instead of contacting paramedics, Hall called for backup and soon Officer Brandin Raney arrived. Raney almost immediately, followed by Hall, began to beat and taser Kim for “failing to respond” to their “verbal commands.” Doctors at the hospital where Kim was subsequently taken assessed his condition as life-threatening.

Officers charged Kim with “resisting arrest.” A catch all charge that the ACLU says officers frequently use to cover their tracks. This incident was caught on video, and not by a civilian, but dash cam video.

The video showed police officers attack Kim, whom is deaf, and was in diabetic shock then claim that he “resisted arrest.” The majority of the beating was done while Kim was already on the ground. According to reports, the officers also tased Kim multiple times while he was already down, handcuffed and near death. Witnesses passing by said that the officers appeared to be “having fun.”

Kim sued the police department, and during the investigation it was learned that Kim was the second deaf person in less than 30 days to have been tased by officers at the same police department.

The charges against Kim were dropped.

Pearl Pearson Case

Pearl Pearson,
Pearl Pearson 3 days after being released from hospital he was finally able to open both eyes.

This past January, Pearl Pearson, a 64 year-old deaf man, was attempting to show Trooper Eric Foster a placard that read “I am deaf” when he was violently pulled him from his truck. Trooper Kelton Hayes arrives, then a third trooper Jason Ownes, and they all brutally beat Pearson. During the beating, Pearson sustained multiple injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, both eyes were swelled shut, and he had busted blood vessels in both eyes due to being hit so hard. The Troopers beat him for nearly seven minutes.

Pearson was not immediately charged, but because the troopers were later embarrassed by the media, charges later followed.

Immediately following Pearson’s assault, the troopers’ dashboard camera revealed officers cursing after they run a quick check of his license and realize that Pearson is deaf. The district attorney announced that the officers involved would not be charged for this brutal attack on the same day that he decided to charged Pearson with, you guessed it, “resisting arrest.” It should be known that the district attorney has two sons that are directly involved in law enforcement, something Pearson’s defense attorney says is a huge conflict of interest.

The district attorney said, with a smirk on his face, “I think the troopers showed restraint, Pearson is lucky they didn’t shoot him.”

“I believe he came close to his death that night,” said Bill Coyle, Pearson’s defense attorney. “Pearson was scared… actually terrified, very confused and was trying to talk with his hands as deaf people do- not resist arrest.”

“Even more terrifying, the troopers got away with it. And they only perused this case after, and only after… they were embarrassed by the media.” Adding, “They chased him down and beat him because Pearson unknowingly “bumped” someone’s car.”

The dash cam clearly showed no resistance from Pearson as he was dragged from his truck and beaten, said Coyle.

The person that reported the “accident” said they wish they would have never made the call because it was only a scratch and it was very possible that a deaf person may not have even realized they bumped someone if they could not hear nor feel it.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol refused to release the dash cam video to Ocala Post. However, after filing a formal complaint with various agencies that protect the Freedom of the Press laws, as well as the Freedom of Information Act; they were forced to turn over a copy of the dash cam video in its entirety.

In the arrest affidavit, officers were quick to describe resistance and non-compliance by Pearson, even making him sound like a drug addict. They made him out to be a hardened criminal, but not one time in the affidavit was it ever mentioned that Pearson is deaf, even after they discovered he was deaf when they did a license check.

Records show that Pearson was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In February, Jonathan Meister was carrying his belongings from his friend’s home when three passing officers mistook him for a burglar. Officers said that his attempts to use sign language were aggressive. The three officers then began beating, tasering, and choking Meister to the point of unconsciousness as they took turns punching him in the face. Several Witnesses in the area came to Meister’s rescue. One witness actually threatened to kill the cops if they continued to beat Meister.

The officers charged Meister with “Assault on a Police Officer.” They said Meister was around 6′ 4″ and physically fit. Officers said because he was a Rugby player they felt they needed to take him down. Witnesses pointed out the fact that officers did not know Meister was a skilled Rugby player until after they had already beat him unconscious.

After reading witness testimony, the prosecutor dropped all charges. The judge then issued a warning to all police officers, stating, “Citizens are no longer going to take police brutality lying down and I don’t blame them.”

Meister’s defense attorney said, “Police need to learn their place. They are civil servants and are supposed to be peace keepers, not barbaric street fighters.”

These stories are just a few of more than a dozen since January 2014 that involve a deaf person being beaten by police and highlight the lack of training, education, and awareness of the Deaf Culture and communication within police departments across the U.S. They illustrate the urgent need for systemic change.

Even more alarming than the frequency and severity of these assaults, is the lack of charges against the officers responsible. Deaf victims of police brutality and family members of deaf homicide victims that have been killed by police tend to victor in lawsuits against police, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. However, officers are rarely formally charged or dismissed from their positions of authority as a result of their actions. Law enforcement officers call it the “Brotherhood.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act has made it clear that officers must take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with deaf people. This obligation includes providing sign language interpreters and auxiliary aids. Moreover, there is a desperate need for police officers to be educated and have an understanding of how to communicate with members of the deaf community.

Many deaf people use their eyes and hands to communicate, as opposed to hearing people who more often rely on their ears and voice. Body language and facial expression are key components of sign language. Additionally, it is not uncommon for people who communicate through sign language to create a bit of space between themselves and the other person to ensure that the receiver has full view of the hands, body, and face. Officers who misunderstand these and other key components of the deaf culture and the way they communicate, might feel threatened retaliate against a deaf person.

Law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to ensure that officers are aware of and are sensitive to the various ways that deaf people communicate. If officers are educated, it will not only protect the deaf community, but also increase the safety of officers.

According to the ACLU, they are currently working on a video in sign language that will help deaf people understand their rights when encountering a police officer. The ACLU said, “Deaf people can only do so much. It is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to ensure that their officers are adequately trained and educated.”

What is it that law enforcement personnel always quote? “Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.”

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