Police Sued for Acts Against Deaf Mother and Twin Daughters

LAS VEGAS, December 22, 2021 — The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and McLetchie Law, on behalf of Andrea “Dre” Hollingsworth and her eleven-year old twin daughters, filed a complaint yesterday asking a federal judge to order the North Las Vegas Police Department (NLVPD) to cease unlawful and discriminatory practices. The complaint also asks NLVPD to implement policies and procedures that will ensure effective communication and a meaningful opportunity to participate in and benefit from NLVPD’s services. The complaint seeks damages for the harm Ms. Hollingsworth and her young daughters experienced when the police created an unnecessarily traumatic encounter.

The complaint asserts the NLVPD violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and other statutes during an interaction with Ms. Hollingsworth. Ms. Hollingsworth is an African American deaf woman who uses American Sign Language (ASL) as her primary means of communication. 

On the evening of April 7, 2021, while sitting in their car waiting for a friend, Ms. Hollingsworth and her two daughters were approached by a defendant, Officer Michael Rose, of the NLVPD. Ms. Hollingsworth and her children repeatedly informed Officer Rose that she is deaf and Ms. Hollingsworth requested the use of written notes. Officer Rose was wearing a neck gaiter covering his mouth and much of his face during the entire encounter making it impossible for Ms. Hollingsworth to try to lip read. Even when informed that Ms. Hollingsworth is deaf, Officer Rose proceeded to speak to Ms. Hollingsworth with his face covered and demanded Ms. Hollingsworth respond to his inquiries without providing her with any means to communicate. Officer Rose even complained about Ms. Hollingsworth’s effort to sign with her daughters. At most points during the interaction, Ms. Hollingsworth was unaware that Officer Rose was even speaking to her because she could not see his lips. Officer Rose refused to use pen and paper to communicate with Ms. Hollingsworth and made no attempts to provide a qualified ASL interpreter. Instead, Officer Rose sought to rely on Ms. Hollingsworth’s eleven-year-old daughters and push them to “interpret” for him while they were crying in fear for their mother and themselves.

As eleven year olds, Ms. Hollingsworth’s daughters were untrained as interpreters, and could not interpret between ASL and English effectively, especially during a traumatic situation. Officer Rose’s insistence on using them to interpret caused the situation to escalate unnecessarily. When the children cried in fear and Ms. Hollingsworth repeatedly expressed confusion, Officer Rose responded by yelling at the children when their mother didn’t comply with his commands. Ms. Hollingsworth had no way to understand these commands, particularly because her daughters were not able to sign the majority of Officer Rose’s commands to her.  

Ultimately, Officer Rose used unreasonable force for a situation he created.  At no time during this interaction did Ms. Hollingsworth or her young daughters pose any danger to Officer Rose or anyone else.  Ms. Hollingsworth was not cited or arrested for any crime. Because Ms. Hollingsworth could not understand him, Officer Rose violently forced Ms. Hollingsworth from her car, shoved her to the ground, and cuffed her behind her back while her daughters watched in horror and cried for him to stop.

Andrea “Dre” Hollingsworth said, “My daughters and I went through a horrible experience at the hands of the North Las Vegas police, especially when they refused to show their lips, tried to force my traumatized young daughters to interpret, and forcefully pulled me out of my car to cuff me. I hope this lawsuit stops them from doing this to anyone else ever again.”

The complaint addresses the erroneous idea that family members can or should be used to interpret in situations involving deaf persons. Federal disability rights laws expressly require the provision of “qualified interpreters” which mandate impartiality and preclude the use of family members. Using family members, let alone young children, as interpreters is not appropriate because of their emotional and personal involvement, which affects the ability to interpret effectively and accurately and impartially. Children who are forced to act as interpreters for their parents often feel guilty and responsible when communication goes badly and suffer trauma as a result.

“This lawsuit is being taken to ensure that no other deaf or hard of hearing person will ever again experiences the disrespect and brutality that occurred here, and also to stop the use of children to interpret for deaf parents and family members.” said Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD CEO.

“The North Las Vegas Police Department has a responsibility under federal statutes – and the Constitution – to train its officers to prevent the very discrimination that occurred here,” said Maggie McLetchie, one of the lawyers on the case. “Deaf and hard of hearing people should not be subjected to violence, seizure, and indignity because police officers won’t communicate with them and are hostile to them.”

The National Association of the Deaf, established in 1880, is the nation’s premier organization safeguarding the civil, human, and linguistics rights of deaf and hard of hearing people in the U.S.

McLetchie Law is a boutique law firm serving prominent and emerging businesses, media entities, and individuals in Nevada and California, including in civil rights cases.