POSTED: 09/18/2012 12:01:00 AM MDT
By Jeremy P. Meyer
The Denver Post
DENVER, CO — The Denver City Council on Monday agreed to pay $695,000 to settle a lawsuit by the family of a deaf man who died in the city’s jail after attempting to kill himself in 2005.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in 2007 was set to go to trial this month. The council voted 12-0 to accept the terms of the settlement.
The suit alleged the city did not adequately train staff, didn’t have proper accommodations for hearing impaired inmates, failed to provide a sign language interpreter and did not screen the inmate for mental health concerns.
The inmate, 23-year-old Shawn Francisco Vigil, was arrested in August 2005 on suspicion of sexual assault and was jailed for about a month before he attempted to hang himself in his jail cell and died shortly thereafter.
Jail officials had housed Vigil in a special unit away from the general population and failed to do any “meaningful analysis of whether he posed a substantial danger to himself,” according to the lawsuit that was filed by Debbie Ulibarri, Vigil’s mother.
City officials say the system has been improved for people with disabilities since Vigil’s incarceration. The downtown detention center was built in 2010 and the county jail was remodeled this year.
New buildings comply with American Disability Act requirements and have technology that includes video phones and “video orientation with sign language” interpretation, said Denver Undersheriff Gary Wilson in an e-mail to The Denver Post.
The new facilities helped alleviate the “severe overcrowding that existed in 2005 and 2007,” Wilson said.
Despite the settlement and alleged fixes to the jail, attorney Paula Greisen who represented Vigil’s family said she worries the issues still remain.
“I think there have been some improvements, but I have not seen any effort to improve the training,” she said. “The only training the officers received on how to communicate with deaf people was through the training academy. They are never given refresher courses.”
Greisen said the court case and other examples of deaf people being mistreated in jail show a pattern of “the government failing to follow the law with very, very serious repercussions.”
Vigil had never been in jail before and was isolated in a jail cell with little oversight. He wasn’t able to communicate with anyone and wasn’t even provided a phone call with his family, Greisen said.
“He basically became invisible,” she said. “He sat in the cell and drew a picture of himself crying.”
Source: The Denver Post