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June 25, 2004

Case against Peekskill deaf man adjourned

From: The Journal - Westchester,NY,USA - Jun 25, 2004


PEEKSKILL — A charge will be dropped against a city man whose arrest in February drew attention to how deaf people are treated in the criminal-justice system, as long as he stays out of trouble.

Edward Dariwala, 24, who was charged in February with endangering the welfare of a minor, agreed yesterday to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal before City Judge William Maher. Under the agreement, the misdemeanor charge will be dropped on Dec. 20 if he is not arrested during the next six months.

Dariwala, his mother, Denise, and his attorney, Anthony J. Mamo Jr. of Sleepy Hollow, said Dariwala's arrest — his first and, he vowed, his last — was a result of a misunderstanding due to others' inability to understand him.

"I'm just glad it's over," a relieved Dariwala said through an interpreter outside court. "I just want to get back to my life."

Dariwala was walking from a bus stop, heading home from work, and saw a young girl crying. He approached to see if he could help, placing a hand on her shoulder while trying to communicate with her. He tried to communicate with his hands and voice, but cannot tell how loud he speaks and has trouble pronouncing words.

Mamo said the girl misunderstood Dariwala's intentions, got scared and left. Dariwala thought the girl was frightened of something else and continued home. But one of the girl's friends called police to report an attempted abduction. The next day, as Dariwala walked the same route home, police arrested him and he was held overnight in jail.

While police provided a sign-language interpreter, Mamo and the Dariwalas, who are from India, questioned the interpreter's qualifications. His case was finally adjudicated yesterday, but not after Dariwala went to court several times, only to have his case postponed due to the lack of a qualified interpreter. Even yesterday, the Dariwalas waited more than 90 minutes for the court's interpreter to arrive.

When they finally got in court, Dariwala signed off on the agreement, as did Maher and Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Chartier. As part of the agreement, Dariwala waived his right to file a civil suit against Peekskill police for what might have been a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing him with a qualified interpreter, although he still can sue the city.

Mamo said his clients were contemplating such a lawsuit, but stressed that "the main thing is that the case is over."

"It was a misunderstanding," Mamo said. "He did nothing wrong."

Among Dariwala's supporters at court yesterday was Michael Hellman of the Westchester Independent Living Center, an advocacy organization for those with disabilities. Hellman said he hoped Dariwala's experience with the criminal-justice system would pave the way for others to receive fair treatment, and wondered why no one ever apologized to Dariwala.

"People with disabilities have rights," he said. "My hope is that they don't get swept under the rug all the time."

Dariwala said the past few months have been difficult because he felt that others may have assumed he was guilty when he knew he did nothing wrong, but he was relieved the case was over.

"I'm very happy about the result," he said before heading off to work.

Copyright 2004 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties in New York.