ACLU sues Woonsocket Police for unlawful arrest of deaf person

ACLU sues Woonsocket Police for unlawful arrest of deaf person

WOONSOCKET – The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the R.I. Disability Law Center have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a profoundly deaf person who was arrested and detained overnight in jail by Woonsocket police for allegedly making an obscene gesture.

The groups say the man was never provided an interpreter to allow him to communicate with the police during his detention, and they say the case raises important issues regarding municipal agency obligations to accommodate residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The lawsuit argues that city officials violated plaintiff David Alves’s “statutory and constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him, charging him with violating an unconstitutional city criminal ordinance, subjecting him to discrimination on account of his disability, and failing to accommodate his disability.”

The arrest took place late one night last July, when Alves and some friends were at the downtown nightclub City Side to celebrate a friend’s birthday. After a verbal altercation between the bouncer and members of the group, police were called. On his way out of the bar, Alves gestured toward the bouncer with the American Sign Language sign for “b*llsh*t,” which police who had arrived at the scene interpreted as giving them the middle finger. Immediately after making the gesture, Alves was arrested by the police for violating a city ordinance banning “obscene language or making an obscene gesture.”

While being booked and held at the station overnight, Alves’s requests for a sign language interpreter were allegedly ignored. When a deaf friend came to the station to check up on him, a police officer handed the friend a note saying that Alves would “be out in the morning no problem . . . These things happen, he just needs to take it as a learning experience.” In the morning, he was released from custody and issued a summons to appear at court on the ordinance violation. A few months later, a Municipal Court judge dismissed the criminal charge.

“I need to fight this case so that other people don’t have to go through the same thing I went through," Alves said of the incident. "Deaf and hard of hearing people deserve the same dignity anyone else deserves. If they violate my civil rights, then they might feel they can violate other people’s civil rights. I want to do what I can to prevent that.”

ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown said of the case, “In this country, people cannot be locked up simply in order to give them a ‘learning experience.’ We are hopeful this lawsuit will send a clear message to all law enforcement agencies that there are basic constitutional limits on the use of their formidable police powers, and that they cannot ignore their obligations under anti-discrimination laws to treat people with disabilities fairly.”

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorneys V. Edward Formisano, Michael Pushee and Alyse Galoski, and RI Disability Law Center attorney Katherine Bowden, raises a host of constitutional and statutory claims, including that:

* The city’s “obscene gesture” ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague in violation of the First Amendment;

* The arrest and overnight detention of Alves without cause violated his rights to due process of law and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; and

* The police officers’ failure to procure an interpreter or provide other means to effectively communicate with Alves violated a number of federal and state laws barring discrimination by municipal agencies on the basis of disability.

Among other remedies sought, the lawsuit asks the court to rule the “obscene gesture” ordinance unconstitutional, declare Alves’ arrest and detention unlawful, order the city to implement policies to prohibit future discrimination against deaf or hard of hearing individuals, and award Alves unspecified monetary damages for violating his rights.


Funny how the Valley Breeze writers are so quick to name politicians in their stories but can't even name the arresting officer(s)?....

Note that there is no writer indicated. The article is a printing of a press release from the ACLU of RI.

Details of the lawsuit can be found here...

The new “get rich quick scheme in the US”.

He flips the bird at the bouncers in a public bar, antagonizes the bouncers, and gets thrown out for it.

Gee, I wonder how many cocktails he had when he did that?

Any breath tests done on this joker for an alcohol level?

I guess flipping the bird means something else in sign language? Really?

Antagonize, act like an IDIOT, collect law suit proceedings, and everyone’s happy….!!!

Just like the 13 year old in Baltimore who walked down the street with his mother’s permission to carry a “replica” pellet gun and gets shot by police officers when trying to run?

The new money maker in the US.

Antagonize the police and collect MILLIONS……

What a great country, also, the police are always wrong you know......

Until you live the life and know what real discrimination is, it is probably better that you say nothing else on this topic.

I happen to have deaf persons in my family and I must say that I don't know all the facts of this story. However, I assume that Alves was arrested for disorderly conduct, an ordinance on the books of nearly every city and town in America. I'm not making a judgment of right and wrong here, but IF Alves did engage in an argument with a patron and then a bouncer and IF the police responded and tried to defuse the situation, seems as if they had cause to arrest a person who was attempting to start a fight.

Now, on to the lawsuit. Deaf folks are deaf, not dumb. I have yet to hear any assertion that Alves didn't understand what was occurring. And, my take on the note makes me believe that an officer was being polite to Alves' friend; he took the time to write a polite note and the excerpt regarding "the learning experience" seems to be taken out of context.

Do some reading and put some actual thought into your responses will you?

Like I said, act like an Idiot in public, and deal with the consequences, deaf or not.

and having seen the abuse my deaf in-laws had to deal with each day, I think I know of what I speak. I'm not arguing about the actions of the deaf person in this case. I am saying that the behavior of the police officers and others in not providing the defendant a reasonable opportunity to properly communicate,denied him his constitutional rights. That is not a defense of his behavior, but the police appear to have come up way short in how to interact with someone who is deaf.

The kid gets cuffed at City Side for drunken disorderly conduct (let’s see what the bouncer and actual police officers have to say about this case when asked), taken out of City Side for drunken behavior, and spends the night in the cooler to sober up (standard practice), and you support the ACLU for denying him interpreter rights?

Did you ever hear of writing things down so he can read them? He can “read” the Miranda rights, right?

That’s all he needs to see, and also a written explanation of why he’s spending a night in the cooler for being a drunken IDIOT.

But no John, you doubt the police officers who "ALLEDGEDLY" didn’t provide him the proper channels to vent his frustration and “Hard of hearing rights” the ACLU is spewing? Please, spare me the tears.

This is a plain money grab, and as you can see, they’re seeking monetary damages in the case.

I love how you take the ACLU’s position on these alleged charges rather than putting your faith in the men and women that protect your city streets on a daily basis……

Please run for City Council again John, so I have the pleasure of voting NO once again…….

First, I do not support discrimination or abuse of any kind. However, in your post you assert that the that the police denied him the right to communicate and denied him his Constitutional rights. Do you know this for a fact? Can we please acknowledge that these are allegations at this point and have not been proven. If the plaintiff prevails in his case, then we can say that the police did these things. Until then, innocent until proven guilty applies to the police as well as everyone else.

The courts has ruled that obscene gesture is a form of freedom of speech. We may not like it but it's the price of freedom. This unconstitutional ordinance will cost the city dearly. How could any city Lawyer not know this?

The courts has ruled that obscene gesture is a form of freedom of speech. We may not like it but it's the price of freedom. This unconstitutional ordinance will cost the city dearly. How could any city Lawyer not know this?

The courts has ruled that obscene gesture is a form of freedom of speech. We may not like it but it's the price of freedom. This unconstitutional ordinance will cost the city dearly. How could any city Lawyer not know this?

If the disorderly conduct was base on an obscene gesture, which is a form of free speech, It would be applicable in this case.