Federal lawsuit filed against Jacksonville Sheriff's Office; deaf woman says she was denied services

A lawsuit accuses the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office of violating federal law for not providing services to a local woman, Cassandra Kinney, who is deaf.

The woman asked for a sign-language interpreter on several occasions. Her attorney said JSO didn’t make one available even after her arrest.

The 21-page complaint states that Kinney was having problems with her roommates, and when JSO was called to the home, they never provided an interpreter to explain what was happening to Kinney.

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In a seven-month timeframe, JSO was called to the home as many as six times.

The first encounter with JSO was August of 2015. After an argument, the lawsuit said JSO only got the roommate's side of the story

“The police officers did not communicate with Kinney through an interpreter. Instead, they listened to her roommates and Baker Acted her,” the complaint says.

Two months later, a similar incident happened, the complaint says.

“Ms. Kinney asked the officer for an interpreter, but JSO denied the request.”

Another two months went by and JSO was called a third time. Kinney’s roommate told police she was suicidal, the complaint says.

“JSO did not speak to Ms. Kinney and instead limited the interview to her roommate,” according to the complaint.

JSO was called to the home three more times. The complaint says Kinney felt trapped because her name was on the lease and that her roommates were trying to get rid of her.

Each time she requested an interpreter, the complaint says, JSO would not provide one.

Kinney's attorney, Sharon Caserta, says that's a violation of federal law, and adds that there are resources available for police to communicate with the deaf.

"What they could have done when they couldn't communicate was simply put her in the vehicle, drive her three miles down the road, and turn on this piece of equipment that runs 24/7," Caserta said.

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Each time JSO was called to the home, Kinney was admitted to a mental health center to be evaluated. In five of those cases, it was determined she did not qualify to be Baker Acted.

In February of 2016, Kinney's roommate filed an injunction. Kinney claims she did not understand the no-contact order. She tried to retrieve her belongings and FaceTimed her roommate's wife. Because she violated the no-contact order, she was later arrested.

The complaint explains:

“Ms. Kinney was incarcerated for almost two (2) weeks and was never provided an interpreter” and “JSO failed to provide effective alerting devices for Ms. Kinney to let her know when it was time for meals, and Ms. Kinney missed meal calls."

Caserta said JSO is required to provide these services.

“Any entity that receives federal funds, which law enforcement, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office does, they have an obligation to not discriminate against persons with disabilities," Caserta said.

Kinney told Action News Jax through an interpreter that JSO ignored her request for an interpreter.

"The police should have provided an interpreter and never did, it was horrible," Kinney said.

Kinney said JSO allegedly violated the Americans With Disabilities Act on several occasions.

"I had no access to communication, no interpretation. I asked for one, he seemed to be ignoring my request," Kinney said.

JSO said it cannot provide comment on the lawsuit at this time. We've learned right now that the next step will be to determine if there will be a settlement with JSO or if the case will go to trial.

The suit is also seeking financial damages, but so far, no dollar amount has been set.