A deaf former inmate whose rights were violated by the D.C. Department of Corrections was awarded $70,000 in damages by a federal jury Wednesday under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson castigated D.C. jail officials in a blistering, 60-page opinion in September that found the department liable for failing to assess what accommodations were needed by William Pierce, 47, of the District and mismanaging his care during his incarceration in 2012.
Jackson wrote that despite written policies in place, officials at the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility “effectively sat on their hands.”
“The District’s willful blindness . . . and its half-hearted attempt to provide Pierce with a random assortment of auxiliary aids — and only after he specifically requested them — fell far short of what the law requires,” Jackson wrote.
An eight-person D.C. federal jury deliberated less than day after a six-day damages trial for Pierce.
Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, said the organization and Pierce were pleased by the verdict and hoped it would lead prison and jail operators across the country to provide qualified sign-language interpreters to deaf inmates and to accommodate other disabled inmates.
Spitzer said evidence indicated jailers balked at a quoted $155-per-hour rate for an interpreter, which he said “certainly doesn’t come to $70,000. I hope that’s a lesson CCA and others have learned.”
Spokesmen for the D.C. Department of Corrections and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs the facility, did not respond to email requests for comment.