Abreham Zemedagegehu has filed a federal lawsuit against the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office because he said they neglected to meet the standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act when they refused to give him a sign language interpreter.  Abreham spent six weeks in jail.  Abreham, a homeless man, was sleeping at the Reagan National Airport when he was arrested by the Airport Authority after someone accused him of stealing an iPad.  Abreham requested a sign interpreter because he didn’t understand what was happening or why he was arrested.  Instead, the jail refused to provide him any help, they carted him off to the county jail and processed him.  Abreham said that the sheriff’s office performed a medical examination during which he was asked to sign forms that he didn’t understand.  English is not his first language.  Abreham was also given a shot that he suffered a severe reaction to.

A spokesperson for the jail said that they did their best to communicate with him using a TTY or text telephone, but Abreham said that besides the fact that the device is obsolete, he doesn’t speak English very well.  It wasn’t until two days after his arrest that he was allowed to see an interpreter, during a court hearing.  Abreham was finally told what he was arrested for.  He pled guilty and was released.  His lawyer said that he’s innocent and didn’t steal the iPad.  He has filed a motion to have the guilty plea withdrawn.  The victim actually found the “stolen” iPad prior to Abreham pleading guilty, he had reportedly misplaced it.  A judge refused to rule on the motion, instead dismissing it, because it missed the deadline.

Abreham said he is astounded that the justice system could not accommodate him.

“They’re doing this 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed,” he said.


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