County enters into settlement agreement but denies wrongdoingDeaf man alleges ADA violations
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A deaf man who spent several months in jail in 2006 has reportedly signed a settlement agreement between himself and both the Nobles County and Martin County jails for a total of $50,000.
The civil suit accused both facilities of discrimination and of refusing to provide him with interpreters and communication devices to accommodate his impairment.
The suit was filed earlier this year by Latell Chaney of Ames, Iowa, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a statement from Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore Tuesday on behalf of Nobles County denied any wrongdoing in the matter, adding that the signing of the settlement was in compromise of a disputed claim and not an admission of liability.
“The settlement was entered into for purely economic reasons by Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust (MCIT) on behalf of Nobles County in the interest of avoiding litigation expense,” Moore wrote. MCIT handled the lawsuit, and the county’s share of the settlement comes from the insurance company and not county funds, according to Moore.
The settlement release, dated Sept. 18, states the payment of settlement “does not institute and shall not be construed or used in any manner as an admission of guilt.”
Chaney filed the suit three years after being arrested on four felony counts in Martin County after allegedly ramming his vehicle into two occupied vehicles during a dispute with a former girlfriend. In one of the vehicles was his teen-aged child.
After the crash, Chaney was arrested and spent two months in the Martin County Jail before being moved to the Nobles County Jail, where he resided for an additional four months.
In a complaint filed against the two counties with the U.S. District Courts, attorney Eric Hageman states Chaney was denied an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and could not communicate freely with jail staff.
The jail’s failure to provide an interpreter for effective communication, Chaney said, resulted in his feeling isolated, anxious, worried and fearful.
Chaney’s ability to read, write and speak English is profoundly limited, the complaint states. After being arrested, Chaney said he did not understand the charges against him or his rights. After being moved to the Nobles County Jail two months later, Chaney watched a video and was given a handbook about the rules of the jail. He signed documents stating he both read and understood the handbook, but after being penalized for infractions, told the jail staff he did not understand the rules.
At the time of his arrest in 2006, Chaney was no stranger to court procedure or a jail cell, having previous convictions of driving after suspension, driving after revocation, check forgery and domestic assault.
He was convicted in the case in Martin County in 2007, but that conviction was overturned due to a technicality — a police report from the scene was not admitted as evidence but was allowed into the jury’s deliberation room and consulted by jury members. A motion for a mistrial was denied, but the appellate court later reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial. One day before the new trial was to start in January 2009, Chaney used an Alford Plea to plead guilty to one charge and the case was settled. Chaney was sentenced to five years probation.
A month later, he filed the civil lawsuit.
During the trial in 2007, a sign language interpreter and advocate testified that Chaney comprehends the English language at a fifth-grade level. She had reportedly told the jail staff in Martin County that Chaney required an interpreter for effective communication and that the law required the jail to provide an interpreter and access to a TTY, a telecommunications device for the deaf.
The complaint states Chaney was never provided with an interpreter to explain his rights or the charges against him in Martin County, and the lack of interpreter in the Nobles County Jail made him unable to participate in jail programming and religious services.
The statement released Tuesday by Moore states the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office has upgraded its policies and procedures “to ensure equal access to its programs and services by deaf and hard of hearing people. These efforts reflect the Sheriff’s ongoing commitment to provide the highest quality services to the citizens of the county.”
The $50,000 check issued by MCIT, the settlement agreement states, is to satisfy all of Chaney’s claims, including any claims for attorney fees or costs.
Chaney was also the victim of a 1995 beating in which several Minneapolis gang members saw him waiting for a bus and allegedly mistook his sign language usage as gang sign. He reportedly boarded the bus, but the men who had yelled at him boarded the bus at a later stop and beat him with a beer bottle, injuring his right eye so severely that surgical removal was necessary.
Chaney later brought a civil lawsuit against Metropolitan Council (Transit Operations) MCTO. The bus company asked for a summary judgment which was denied by the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals, but that decision was reversed in 1997 and the case dismissed.