Deaf Virginia Man Jailed Without Being Given an Interpreter


A deaf Virginia man has filed a federal law suit against the Arlington County Sheriff’s office because he says that they neglected to meet standards mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act when they failed to provide him with a sign language interpreter last month when they placed him in jail for six weeks.


The Associated Press reports that Abreham Zemedagegehu, who’s homeless, was sleeping at Reagan National Airport last month when he was arrested by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Someone said that he’d stolen an individual’s iPad. Zemedagegehu requested a sign language interpreter because he didn’t understand why he was being arrested, but he wasn’t provided with any help and instead was transferred to the Arlington County jail. Once there, Zemedagegehu was put through processing.   

Zemedagegehu told the Associated Press that the sheriff’s office performed a medical examination, during which he was asked to sign forms that he didn’t understand given that English is not his first language. During the examination, Zemedagegehu says that he was given a tuberculosis shot without explanation, and later suffered a severe reaction.

A spokesperson says that the jail did it’s best to communicate with Zemedagegehu, using a text telephone—or TTY—but Zemedagegehu says that besides the fact that the device is obsolete, he can’t read English, so the machine did little good.

 It was not until two days after his arrest—at his arraignment where there was a court interpreter—that Zemedagegehu finally came to understand why the police had picked him up.

Zemedagegehu remained in jail until earlier this month when he finally pled guilty so that he could be released. But both Zemedagegehu and his lawyer say that he’s innocent; he did not steal the iPad. His lawyer—a public defender—actually filed a motion to have the conviction overturned.  He says that the man who claimed that his iPad had been stolen actually found the device prior to Zemedagegehu pleading guilty, but the prosecutors failed to turn over this exculpatory evidence. Sadly, a judge refused to overturn the conviction because he says that the appeal was filed late.

Zemedagegehu told the Associated Press that he’s astounded that the legal system couldn’t better accommodate his needs.

“They’re doing this 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. They know better,” he said to the Associated Press.

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