Evelyn Arthur is a 77-year-old, profoundly deaf resident of District of Columbia public housing, who uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. DCHA has a policy that a visitor to a resident of public housing can be admitted only after the security desk calls the resident and she confirms that she wishes to receive the guest. Because Ms. Arthur cannot hear a telephone ring, DCHA initially allowed Robert Arthur, her son and caretaker, to enter her building and go to his mother’s apartment upon presenting identification and signing in only; no phone call was required. Additionally, when other guests wishing to visit Ms. Arthur arrived at her building, the security officers called Robert Arthur’s cell phone and allowed him to authorize their admittance.

Ms. Arthur also has a Video Relay System, which enables a deaf person to communicate with a hearing person by connecting both parties to a trained sign-language interpreter. The Video Relay System equipment was connected to the television in Ms. Arthur’s bedroom. Accordingly, incoming calls would be visible to her only when she was in her bedroom, awake and looking in the direction of the television. When she was in her kitchen, living room, or bathroom, or on her porch or asleep or otherwise distracted, she was unable to see that a call was coming in via the Video Relay System.

In January 2017, DCHA inexplicably revoked its exception to its visitation policy for Ms. Arthur. As a result, when Robert tried to visit his mother throughout 2017, he was on numerous occasions denied entry because the security desk called her and she did not answer or see the Video Relay System. Despite the Arthurs’ complaints, DCHA, its management company CIH Properties, and its security company, Butler Security, did not reinstate an exception to its policy to accommodate Ms. Arthur. DCHA did authorize additional hardware to be provided to Ms. Arthur, but it has never worked.

One night in June 2017, Ms. Arthur called her son in medical distress. He rushed to her building but was once again denied entry because Ms. Arthur did not answer a call from the security desk. Fearing for his mother’s health, Robert went up to her apartment anyway. In response, the Butler Security officer on duty, Edward Traynham, requested, and DCHA authorized, Robert to be barred from his mother’s building for two months. The Arthurs’ attempts to have the bar lifted were rejected by DCHA.

After the initial bar expired, Robert attempted to visit his mother to bring her medication in August 2017. Traynham once again denied Robert entry, claiming that a second bar against Robert had been imposed in July – although neither Ms. Arthur nor her son had been notified of the bar.

Later in August, an arrest warrant was issued for Robert due to alleged violations of the various bar notices. D.C. police officers came to Ms. Arthur’s apartment on August 30, 2017, in search of Robert. They failed to bring an ASL interpreter with them, even though they knew or should have known Ms. Arthur was deaf. Ms. Arthur was surprised, confused and frightened by the entry of the MPD officers into her home. She became agitated and began to make noises. Robert tried to explain to his mother in sign language what was happening, and he told the officers that she had a disability. The officers could plainly see that Ms. Arthur was non-verbal and was trying to communicate with her hands and moaning. The officers were nevertheless indifferent to her disability. They restrained Ms. Arthur by holding her wrists or arms, thereby cutting off her ability to communicate with her son. They also handcuffed Robert, cutting off his ability to communicate with her. (The charges against him were later dropped.) Although Ms. Arthur presented no threat of any kind, one of the officers said he was tired of Ms. Arthur’s moaning and ordered that she be handcuffed. Having been grabbed by her arms and then made to sit on the couch with her hands cuffed behind her caused the elderly Ms. Arthur to suffer injuries, including acute lower back pain, left and right shoulder strains, and significant bruising on her arms and elsewhere.

In August 2018, we sued DCHA, CIH Properties, Butler Security, Traynham, and several D.C. police officers for failing to accommodate Ms. Arthur’s disability, retaliation for the Arthurs’ advocacy for reasonable accommodations, and excessive force, among other claims.

 

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP

Date filed

August 30, 2018

Status

Open

Stay informed

ACLU of the District of Columbia is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National