Deaf woman wins $1 in lawsuit against Tacoma, Pierce County

Staff writerMarch 18, 2014 

A deaf woman who sued the city of Tacoma and Pierce County, claiming they violated her rights during her arrest and incarceration two years ago, lost most of her claims during a recent trial in federal court.

A jury earlier this month awarded LaShonn White $1 in damages.

Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said the outcome was a victory for taxpayers.

“We take strong stands against frivolous and harassing lawsuits,” Lindquist said this week.

White had sought more than $1 million in damages.

She contended in her lawsuit that she was treated unfairly by Tacoma police officers who were dispatched to investigate a call she made to 911 and later by jailers who booked her on investigation of assault.

White, who was born deaf, called 911 with the help of a electronic device in April 2012 to report she’d been assaulted, court records show.

Two officers dispatched to investigate found another deaf woman outside White’s apartment building. Using hand signals and pen and paper, the second woman told police she and White had been in a fight, the records show.

White then came out of her apartment building and marched toward the officers, ignoring hand signals and shouted commands to stop, the records show. One of the officers then shot her with his stun gun and handcuffed her. She later was booked into jail.

White was never charged with a crime. She sued in November 2012.

“The Tacoma Police Department failed to provide basic accommodation for Ms. White’s deafness, used unreasonable force against her, denied her medical care and wrongfully arrested her without probable cause,” her lawsuit states.

She contended county jailers did not give her access to a device that would have allowed her to make outside calls to arrange for bail and did not adequately explain her bail amount to her.

“Ms. White was unnecessarily and wrongfully imprisoned for nearly three days,” her lawsuit states.

City and county lawyers said their employees acted appropriately and presented evidence at trial to back up their arguments.

“Pierce County provided evidence that the plaintiff used a TTY phone for 34 minutes during her booking process, asking her father to bail her out,” the county said in a statement. “Evidence also proved jail staff provided her bail amount in writing, and the plaintiff never requested an interpreter or further accommodation.”

The jury did find that police officers Ryan Koskovich and Michael Young violated White’s Fourth Amendment rights by arresting her without probable cause, but jurors rejected arguments that they did so maliciously and awarded her the $1 in damages.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644

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