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Deaf Springfield man sues county over lack of interpreter services

Derrick Lake of Springfield is deaf, can’t read lips or read proficiently so he uses only American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

So when Clark County Sheriff’s deputies came to his home Feb. 15 to arrest him on a warrant for related traffic violation, he didn’t know why. When he was handcuffed behind his back, Lake couldn’t communicate and deputies had no ASL interpreter to explain, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit contends Clark County Municipal Court and the City of Springfield didn’t properly send notices to Lake’s correct address to inform him that he was required to appear in court for missing earlier appearances..

The complaint said deputies immediately realized Lake, 29, was deaf but didn’t take any actions to ensure communications and that no “Miranda rights were given to Lake” that he would “remotely understand.”

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Clark County spokesman Michael Cooper said the county wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Attorney Sean Sobel wrote that Lake’s wife called the jail to tell them they needed an ASL interpreter because writing notes would not work. The complaint said an unknown jail official responded that it would be “too much of a hurdle to get an interpreter.”

The complaint lists the City of Springfield, Clark County Municipal Court, the county commissioners and the sheriff’s office as defendants.

The complaint alleges Clark County officials failed to provide ASL interpreter services or other auxiliary aids or services necessary to communicate as dictated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Lake seeks declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.

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Sobel said he has represented other deaf clients who have not been provided interpreter services.

“It’s all too common,” Sobel said. “Whether it’s in hospitals, jails, schools, so many entities don’t know what is required under the ADA and other federal laws and just presume that if they’re dealing with somebody’s who’s deaf, that they can just communicate with them through passing notes, reading lips and the law is very clear that that is not acceptable.”

Sobel says his hope is that a similar situation doesn’t happen again and that jurisdictions are required to bear the cost of interpretation.

Lake’s wife implored jail officials to get an interpreter because her husband would have no idea why he was in jail or how long he would be there, the suit says. The complaint alleges a jail official said, “if you are adamant about an interpreter, I will get one” but that did not happen.

RELATED: Springfield man found passed out in car with 60 grams of pot

Lake’s wife was told that jail officials said Lake “had agreed to proceed without an interpreter,” which the suit said was impossible.

Lake was placed in a holding cell all night where an officer could “keep an eye on” Lake because he was deaf, the suit said, and that Lake spent the night sleeping on a metal bench in the holding cell instead of a regular cell with a bed.

During his arraignment on Feb. 16, he was arraigned by Judge Thomas E. Trempe without an interpreter. Lake’s wife told the judge of Lake’s status but no interpreter was provided and Lake was released on his own recognizance, according to the lawsuit.

A Springfield News-Sun story from March 2017 said a Derrick Lake was passed out in a running vehicle with 60 grams of marijuana in his possession, but it is unclear if this violation had to do with Lake’s warrant.

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