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Gay deaf man sues city for mistreatment

Claims jail officials handcuffed him, deprived him of HIV meds

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jail, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Wendy Wilkins Valdez

    February 8, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    I'm wondering why, if there was no discrimination because he was gay, this fact was front and center in this article. Apparently someone thought it was of primary importance to the story, yet the story ends saying there was no anti-gay discrimination. Then why mention it?

    • Jen Francis

      February 8, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      right? Why couldn't it just say 'Deaf man sues city for mistreatment'. Same difference. There would NEVER be all this crap about 'gay/straight' etc if people did not TALK about it.

    • Jen Francis

      February 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      I feel the same way about people who focus on race. Don't do that either, it's stupid.

    • Wendy Wilkins Valdez

      February 9, 2013 at 12:10 am

      I agree. If ethnicity is key to the incident in some way, that's fine. But, I don't need to know that the guy you asked about how the snow affects your commute to work is Asian or Black or whatever. That has nothing to do with what the question is. And, the key in this article was that the ADA was violated. Being gay is no longer considered a disability. So, why mention it? Because of his HIV meds? Sorry, no! They could have just said he wasn't being given his meds properly for a chronic condition he has. UNLESS the doctor was deliberately discriminating – in which case, there WOULD be discrimination because of his being gay. They pointedly stated there was NO discrimination because of being gay.

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Nellie’s agrees to $5,000 fine, 7-day license suspension over brawl

Penalty prompted by security guard dragging Black woman down stairs

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Nellie’s must pay a fine and face a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 brawl in which a Black woman was dragged down the stairs. (Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday, Oct 20, approved a compromise agreement it reached with Nellie’s Sports Bar that calls for the U Street, N.W. gay bar to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 incident in which a Black woman was dragged down a flight of stars by a Nellie’s security guard during a brawl between Nellie’s customers.

The agreement calls for a license suspension of 24 days with 17 days to be suspended and seven days to be served “so long as the Respondent does not commit any violations within (1) year from the date of this Order,” the ABC Board declared in a three-page order confirming the agreement.  

The order states that the license suspension will be served from Dec. 20-26 of this year. It also states that Nellie’s must pay the fine within 120 days from the date of the order. If the fine is not paid during that time “its license shall be immediately suspended until all amounts owed are paid.”

As a final stipulation of the agreement, the ABC Board states that Nellie’s must file a “legally compliant security plan” within 10 calendar days of the Oct. 20 order.

The security plan requirement stems from an earlier finding by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration related to the June 13 incident that Nellie’s was in violation of several provisions of the city’s liquor law, including a provision that a security plan that meets the standards of the city’s liquor regulations is in place.

An ABRA investigation of the June 13 incident found, among other things, that “multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct.”

The action by the Nellie’s security guard, which took place during the city’s LGBTQ Pride weekend, was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone. The video went viral on social media, prompting a series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter advocates.

Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what had happened and develop plans for reopening as a safe space for all members of the community. It reopened 35 days later, with protesters continuing to assemble outside the bar for several more weeks.

 When the five-member ABC Board on Oct. 20 held a roll call vote to approve what is officially called an Offer-In-Compromise or OIC agreement with Nellie’s that includes the fine, license suspension, and other provisions, gay ABC Board member Edward Grandis voted against the agreement, becoming the only member to do so.

A video recording of the virtual ABC Board meeting available through YouTube shows that Grandis expressed general support for the decision by both the board and Nellie’s to reach a compromise agreement. But he said he objects to the license suspension requirement.

“In this particular regard, when the facts and the testimony indicate that the licensee on its own initiative without any knowledge, at least in the testimony, of prompting from the government or MPD or any party, to itself close for 35 days during – generally – the pandemic when so many companies lost their companies and their employees lost their jobs and the neighborhoods lost their establishments, I really believe that this particular situation shows that the licensee took this event seriously and accordingly in a manner that hopefully will prevent it from happening again or have better security measures to avoid this type of situation in the future,” Grandis told his fellow board members.

“And I just wanted the record to show I’m supportive of the OIC generally, but I don’t believe it was constructed in a way that indicates what this licensee has done since that incident,” Grandis said.

Nellie’s owner, Douglas Schantz, and Nellie’s attorney, Andrew Klein, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Klein, who spoke at the ABC Board hearing on Wednesday, said in response to a question by Grandis that Nellie’s reluctantly agreed to the fine and license suspension, which he called “excessive,” among other things, because Schantz wants to put the matter behind him and to “heal” and “move on” with the community.

The ABC Board’s action came one day after the Washington City Paper announced that Nellie’s Sports Bar finished in second place among its readers in its annual Best of D.C. contest for the category of “Best Gay Bar/Club/Lounge.”

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UDC hosts event recognizing LGBTQ support at HBCUs

Seven campuses participate in annual event

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to ‘celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

The University of the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Oct. 20, hosted one of seven “Out Loud Day” events highlighting LGBTQ visibility and inclusion at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on college campuses throughout the country.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the national LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that it created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to “celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts” at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

“It is also a day to take stock of all the challenges that LGBTQ+ students face in their daily lives at HBCUs and to have discussions on how to foster even more inclusion on their campuses,” said Leslie Hall, the HRC HBCU Program Director in a statement.

“This is the third time that the Human Rights Campaign has hosted the day, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue to expand upon the LGBTQ+ inclusion work we have been doing for years alongside HBCU administrations and student leaders,” Hall said.

Rishard Butts, HRC’s HBCU Program Senior Manager, told the Washington Blade that the UDC event included in-person activities that began at 5 p.m. on its campus in Northwest D.C. Among the events were an open dialogue session covering LGBTQ topics of interest to student participants. He said another session focused on LGBTQ figures in history, including those who were Black, and their impact on historic developments locally or worldwide. 

He said a third session included a trivia contest in which student participants received small prizes for answering questions about LGBTQ topics of interest to the community.

Butts noted that the HBCU Out Loud Day event was taking place at UDC a little over two years after the university celebrated the grand opening of its Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs. At the time of its opening, the Center said it would provide services and a space to meet and socialize for “students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.”

According to Butts, the concept for Out Loud Day at historically black colleges and universities began, in part, as a response to National Coming Out Day, which he said is not something that all LGBTQ people of color could do.

“So, we flipped this day around and instead of putting the responsibility of someone coming out, we put the responsibility on everyone to celebrate everyone,” he said. “So, it’s HBCU Out Loud Day so everyone is ‘out loud’, and everyone is proud, and everyone is celebrating and uplifting the stories of LGBTQ people and it’s not just the responsibility of the person who is out or coming out.”

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Gay man attacked, beaten by neighbors in Northeast D.C.

Police list incident as hate crime but courthouse ‘backlog’ could delay arrests

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Antonio Zephir was beaten by neighbors and fears for his life. (Photo courtesy of Zephir)

A woman, her daughter, and a man believed to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched a gay man in the face while the mother called him a “Jewish faggot” and other anti-gay slurs during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of an apartment building where the victim and the two women live, according to the victim and a D.C. police incident report.

The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, told the Washington Blade the incident began after the mother began shouting anti-gay slurs at him as he walked past her and his roommate outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13. 

Zephir identifies the mother as Aurlora Y. Ellis in court papers seeking a restraining order against her that he filed in D.C. Superior Court. He said she had acted in a hostile way toward him before the assault incident.

“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” Zephir told the Blade in an email.

He said that minutes before the Oct. 13 attack, Ellis yelled the words “Jewish faggot” when he walked past her as she was talking to his roommate, Steven Johnson. Zephir said it is well known among his neighbors at the apartment complex that he is of the Jewish faith.

“I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir wrote in his email to the Blade. 

“I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he wrote. “Mr. Johnson tried to break us up when her daughter Latera Cox and [Cox’s] father assaulted me,” according to Zephir’s account of the incident. “Ms. Ellis yelled, ‘Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.”

At that point, Ellis, her daughter Latera Cox, and the man Zephir believes to be Cox’s father fled the scene, Zephir told the Blade.

The D.C. police incident report, which lists the assault as a suspected hate crime, says, “All three suspects then fled east bound” on the 4800 block of Fort Totten Dr., N.E.

Zephir said he immediately called police, who arrived on the scene and took a report on the incident. The report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as a simple assault, which is a misdemeanor under D.C. law.

But Zephir said a detective working on the case told him this week that police were looking into speeding up the process of obtaining warrants for the arrest of the three attackers based, in part, on the injuries Zephir suffered from the attack. He provided the Blade with a medical report issued by the Washington Hospital Center, where his roommate took him to the emergency room the day following the attack, in response to severe pain he was experiencing to his face and head.

The report from the hospital, which treated and released him on Oct. 14, says he was diagnosed as having a fractured nose; a fracture of the “interior orbital wall,” which is the bone surrounding one of his eyes; subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding of his left eye; and “laceration of oral cavity” which means an injury inside his mouth caused by trauma from the assault.

Zephir told the Blade that the same detective told him last week that due to a “backlog” in cases at the D.C. Superior Court, it could take between one and two months for police and prosecutors to obtain warrants for the arrests of the two women and the man who assaulted him.

A police spokesperson told the Blade the case remains under active investigation. A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which acts as the prosecutor for adult criminal cases in D.C., said he would look into whether the office could publicly comment on the status of efforts to obtain arrest warrants for the three attackers.

Zephir said rumors had surfaced prior to the assault incident that Ellis may have access to a gun. Based on what he feared was a threat by Ellis when she told him during the attack that “this isn’t over yet,” he said he persuaded his roommate to drive him to the courthouse on the same day as the attack to apply for a court restraining order to prevent Ellis from harming him again.

Court records show he also filed a civil complaint against Ellis, Ellis’s daughter, and Ellis’s roommate, Linda Miller, who Zephir says in the complaint acted as an “enabler” for Ellis’ hostility toward him.

The complaint, which is a civil lawsuit that Zephir wrote by hand and filed by himself without hiring a lawyer, calls for $18,000 in damages.  

“I have nightmares,” Zephir told the Blade. “I can’t believe it happened. I keep reliving the experience over and over and over in my head,” he said. “And I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own apartment. I don’t feel safe because I, honest to God, feel like she is going to bodily harm me and I might be, God forbid, murdered.”

Ellis, Cox, and Miller could not immediately be reached for comment.

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