Friday, October 16, 2009

Hearing Impaired Women Sues Sheriff's Office with help of ACLU

The ACLU of New Mexico filed suit against the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and several of its deputies on Thursday -- the same day they settled this lawsuit.

The ACLU claims sheriff’s deputies coerced Angelicka Serna, a hearing-impaired woman, to falsely accuse her fiancé, Jose Herrera, of domestic abuse. The suit alleges that BCSO deputies violated the plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they threatened to take away her infant son if she didn’t confess that her boyfriend assaulted her.

The suit also alleges that the Defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to use a certified sign language interpreter when Serna requested one.

The incident occurred in November of 2008 as Serna, her fiancé, and their child attempted to leave an apartment where they had just been caught in the middle of an altercation involving other individuals.

BCSO deputies arrived outside as they were leaving and noticed the minor bruises and scrapes the couple sustained in the confusion of the fracas. When questioned by the deputies, Serna produced a card that explained she was hearing impaired and requested the presence of a qualified interpreter.

Ignoring her request, the deputies instead separated the couple and relied instead on Jose’s half-brother, Louis Herrera, who possesses only rudimentary sign language skills and is not a qualified interpreter.

“This incident is an excellent example of why we have laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “If the sheriff’s deputies had taken the time to procure a certified sign language interpreter as required by law when one was requested by Ms. Serna, the misunderstanding would not have led to the shocking violation of her rights and the wrongful arrest of Jose Herrera.”

The ACLU of New Mexico is suing BCSO on behalf of Angelicka Serna for damages and also demands that BCSO alter their regulations to be compliant with the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The case was filed by ACLU-NM Staff Attorneys.

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