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December 5, 2003

City of Billings reaches agreement in discrimination complaint with deaf couple

From: Billings Gazette, MT - Dec 5, 2003

Associated Press

BILLINGS — The city of Billings has reached a $23,000 settlement with a deaf couple who said they were mistreated by police officers.

Julie and Guy Jeffery filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau, and sued the city and the Police Department after a run-in with authorities.

The couple said they were discriminated against when officers failed to provide a sign language interpreter at the scene of a May 2002 accident.

Court documents say Guy Jeffery had a seizure and crashed a car into a sign and bench. Julie Jeffery was able to stop the car after a few blocks.

Guy Jeffrey was ticketed for reckless driving.

The lawsuit says when officers arrived, Julie Jeffery wrote a note explaining the couple was deaf and needed a sign language interpreter.

An officer did call for an interpreter, but no one was available from the outdated list kept by dispatchers. A sheriff’s deputy who knew some sign language also was unavailable.

The lawsuit says Officer Randy Minkoff was rude to the couple, poking Gus Jeffrey in the shoulder and writing a note to him calling him an obscene name and a criminal because the officer thought Guy Jeffrey was making a lewd gesture.

The couple also complained that the officers did not help them find a ride home.

Billings attorney Harlan Krogh, who represented the city, said in the settlement that the city agreed to give city police officers training on how to work with disabled citizens.

The city does not admit that the four officers named — Konrad Kunneman, Peter Lehman, Minkoff and Jerry Smidt — did anything wrong, Krogh said. Krogh said the settlement was reached to avoid further legal costs.

"It’s a cost factor of how much attorney fees are reasonable to prove yourself right," Krogh said.

An attorney for the Jefferys, Philip Hohenlohe, said the Jefferys are satisfied with the settlement agreement, which was reached days before the case was scheduled for a hearing before a state administrative law judge.

"People who are deaf have a right to be treated with dignity and respect, and that’s what this case is all about," Hohenlohe said.

Details of the agreement still need to be finalized, and it must be approved by the Human Rights Bureau.

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