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August 13, 2004

Police didn't provide interpreter for deaf and blind woman

From: KTRK, TX - Aug 13, 2004

By Miya Shay
ABC13 Eyewitness News

(8/13/04 - SUGAR LAND, TX) — A deaf and blind woman is accusing the Sugar Land Police Department of breaking the law because it denied her an interpreter. The Sugar Land PD paints a much different picture.

Melissa Zamora was arrested on Wednesday night after getting in a fight with her mother. But it's what happened during the 18 hours after her arrest that has her family very angry.

You can feel Melissa's fear as she tries to communicate with her stepmother Leslie Zamora, who is very upset over what happened two days ago.

"I'm very angry and saddened at the fact that a deaf and blind person would be treated so inhumanely," Leslie told Eyewitness News.

On Wednesday, Melissa was arrested at her mother's house during a domestic disturbance. But the Zamoras say the Sugar Land police ignored the American's with disabilities act when despite Melissa being deaf and legally blind -- no interpreter was ever used, leaving her confused and scared.

"Wednesday night, the turmoil, I can't even imagine," said Leslie. "Her words were she thought they were going to kill her."

After she was arrested, Melissa was brought to the hospital. Even then, her family says an interpreter was never offered.

In a statement, the Sugar Land police said, "Melissa Zamora was taken into custody after attacking and biting her mother inside their home. ... She was cleared through medical and mental health evaluation, transported to Fort Bend County Jail."

A police spokesman said over the phone that the arresting officer felt that since Melissa could read lips and write, he didn't need an interpreter. In addition, the department has no concrete policy dealing with deaf suspects, nor interpreters. That's something that surprised an ACLU attorney.

"It's very common that officers come in contact with deaf people, and the fact that they don't have a policy means that they're way behind the times and they need to get a policy," said attorney Randall Kallinen.

For now, the family says they're still trying to figure out how Melissa's arm was injured. Melissa was charged with assault/family violence. She is scheduled to appear in court next month.

We asked the Sugar Land police if their officers receive deaf or disabilities training. A spokesman told us the training officer is out of town.

(Copyright © 2004, KTRK-TV)