FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Christopher Ferrell only wanted to communicate with the police officer who pulled him over for speeding. But, when Ferrell didn’t respond to commands, the officer jerked him out of his car and slammed him against its back window.
The officer seemed oblivious to Ferrell’s message – that he was deaf. Ferrell ended up with a broken nose that night in November of 2007 and, later, a $50,000 settlement from the City of Fort Worth.
“We have a lot of problems with the police department not communicating with deaf people,” said Norma Castillo, through an interpreter.
An advocate from the Deaf Action Center, Castillo said the deaf are often intimidated by police.
“They look at them as having discrimination,” she said.
The Fort Worth Police Department is trying to change that perception.
On Saturday, it held its first ever community forum for the deaf and hard of hearing, trying to promote education on each side.
“We know there are areas of improvement,” said Chief Jeffrey Halstead.
Officers are now being taught to read a person’s body language for signs indicating they might not be able to hear.
They’re also learning to use basic sign language during emergencies. Seventeen-year-old Cathy Ayala is happy for the opportunity to learn from police as well, so she knows how to avoid any confusion.
“I think it’s really worth it that we came. I do,” she said, through an interpreter.