In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Feb. 1, a former D.C. jail inmate who’s deaf and gay, accuses the city’s Department of Corrections of engaging in disability-related discrimination by refusing to provide him basic services required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
William Pierce, 44, who was sentenced to two months in a city jail for an assault conviction, charges in the lawsuit that jail officials repeatedly refused to provide a sign language interpreter as required by law and retaliated against him for complaining about his conditions by placing him in solitary confinement.
Pierce, who has HIV, was given only three of the four HIV medications he had been taking at home and was unable to understand why prison doctors changed his medication regimen because of the lack of a sign language interpreter, the lawsuit says.
It says the emotional distress Pierce suffered due to the alleged discriminatory treatment was heightened when jail guards handcuffed him shortly before his mother arrived for a visit, preventing him from communicating with her in sign language.
“The District of Columbia needs to be held accountable for its outright discrimination and reminded that people with disabilities cannot just be locked away and ignored,” said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, which filed the lawsuit on Pierce’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Spitzer said most of the alleged discriminatory actions against Pierce took place at the D.C. Jail’s Correctional Treatment Facility. The CTF is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, a private company under contract with the city.
“D.C., in turn, needs to hold the Corrections Corporation of America accountable for its continued disregard for the wellbeing of the individuals the city has placed in its care,” Spitzer said in a statement.
Sylvia Lane, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Corrections, which oversees city jail facilities, said the department never comments on pending lawsuits. Ted Gest, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, which defends the city against lawsuits, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The 16-page lawsuit doesn’t accuse jail officials of engaging in discrimination against Pierce because of his sexual orientation. Spitzer told the Blade that Pierce didn’t encounter any problems at the jail for being gay.
The lawsuit says his partner, William W. Holder, spoke with prison officials on “at least 15 different occasions” in addition to sending emails urging the officials to make accommodations for Pierce due to his lack of hearing.
Among other things, Holder attempted to explain that Pierce could not benefit from an anger management class or a vocational skills course offered by the jail without the help of an interpreter.
“In response to Mr. Holder’s requests for accommodation on Mr. Pierce’s behalf, Correctional Treatment Facility officials told Mr. Holder they could not ‘justify’ the expense of an interpreter,” the lawsuit says.
“Officials also told Mr. Holder that it would take six to eight months to get an interpreter vetted and approved to work in the Correctional Treatment Facility, and that Mr. Pierce would be gone by then,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says jail officials “intentionally subjected Mr. Pierce to disability-based discrimination” in violation of the Americans with Disability Act and the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.
It calls on the court to approve a “judgment awarding Mr. Pierce damages against defendant in an amount appropriate to the evidence adduced at trial.”
D.C. Superior Court records show that Pierce was charged with domestic violence related assault and two counts of destruction of property in December 2011 for attacking Holder and damaging an antique desk and a chandelier. Court records show the incident took place in Holder’s townhouse on the 1300 block of R Street, N.W., where he and Pierce lived, and that Holder was taken to a hospital by ambulance for treatment of injuries he suffered from the assault.
A judge sentenced Pierce to 60 days in jail and ordered him to pay Holder $2,516.20 in monthly installments of $250 as restitution for the damaged property in the house, court records show.