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APD Settles With Deaf Woman Over Arrest

APD Settles With Deaf Woman Over Arrest

August 22 2012

A lawsuit against the Austin Police Department is leading to some
changes in how the department deals with the hearing-impaired and deaf

In 2009, Ester Valdez was walking down a North Austin sidewalk talking
intensely to someone else in sign language. An Austin Police officer
misinterpreted Valdez’s hand gestures and tried to intervene. Valdez is
hearing impaired so she didn’t hear when the officer ask her to stop.
Valdez was eventually arrested for resisting arrest. She was booked in
the city jail and brought before a magistrate the next day.

The charges were eventually dropped. Through the Texas Civil Rights
Project, Valdez filed a lawsuit against the Austin Police Department
and Travis County, which was just settled.

“The good news is that the case settled fairly soon after we filed it,”
said Joe Berra, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

For Joe Berra, the lawsuit had the intended effect.

“Both the city and the county were very responsive and, without
admitting any liability, they simply wanted to ensure things would be
better in the future,” said Berra.

Berra represented Ester Valdez in the lawsuit. He says her arrest
highlighted problems with the Austin police department; specifically
the fact that no interpreter was ever provided to Valdez, not at the
time of her arrest, nor at a hearing before a magistrate.

“Whenever there’s an incident between the department and the citizens
in the community and there’s anything we can learn from it for how to
better serve, we do,” said senior officer Michael Burgeson with APD and
an instructor with the APD police academy.

As part of the lawsuit settlement, all cadets will get a full day
training on how to handle situations involving people with
disabilities. And current officers will be required to take a refresher
course every two years.

“As the world changes and the community changes, we’ll try to change
with it and provide better training to our cadets and officers,” said

Travis County has agreed, as part of the settlement, to provide
interpreters to every court appearance where it’s needed. The county
has also installed video-phones in the jails to allow hearing-impaired
prisoners to communicate with family members or interpreters.

“I’m hopeful that we’re making progress. No doubt,” said Berra.
Hopeful that by standing up for Valdez’s rights, more people will be

The city paid Valdez $500 and lawyer fees in the settlement.

By Karen Kiley



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