A deaf Kern County woman has sued the county, as well as Sheriff Donny Youngblood and 10 deputies, alleging she was arrested and booked for five days in the county jail without being told her charges in a way she could understand.
In a complaint filed in the Eastern District of California U.S. District Court, lawyers for Jennifer Mello said three Kern County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at Mello’s residence at 10 p.m. on Nov 30, 2017.
The complaint says Mello informed the deputies that she was deaf and communicated using American Sign Language before asking for an interpreter.
Despite her request, the complaint says the deputies kept speaking to Mello verbally.
The complaint says Mello's first language is American Sign Language.
Mello then tried to communicate with the deputies through writing, but the deputies refused to communicate with her in that fashion, according to the complaint.
The deputies then took Mello to the Kern County Jail where she was, booked into the jail, searched and x-rayed, the complaint said. She was then held in the jail for five days where she was not granted the use of an interpreter during questioning by six other deputies.
“Said actions were done with evil motive or intent, or with reckless, callous and deliberate indifference to cause plaintiff, unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” the complaint reads.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Mello appeared in court, the complaint says, still without the use of an interpreter, when she was released.
“The defendants… acted with deliberate indifference which knowingly subjected the plaintiff to acts and injuries that constituted an unreasonable deprivation of life and liberty,” the complaint read.
The attorney representing Mello, Greg Garrotto, declined a request for comment.
The County Counsel for Kern County was unavailable for an interview on Monday.
The complaint says the Sheriff’s Office’s failure to provide a sign language interpreter for Mello violated her civil rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Mello has asked for damages, attorneys fees and that the county develop a policy that mandates people who are deaf or hard of hearing be provided with a sign language interpreter when interacting with county investigators.
The county received a summons from the complaint on Oct. 9. They have until Nov. 3 to submit a response.