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December 8, 2006

Deaf Man Claims Police Beat Him

From: WCCO - Minneapolis,MN,USA - Dec 8, 2006

Jason DeRusha

(WCCO) St. Paul What started as a simple traffic stop, ended with a leader of the Twin Cities deaf community bruised and bloodied. Now, he's accusing St. Paul Police of using excessive force.

Doug Bahl, 56, had never been arrested before. On Nov. 17, just after 5 p.m., Officer Stephen Bobrowski pulled him over for running a red light near Marshall and Finn Streets in St. Paul.

When the officer approached Bahl's car, there was a breakdown in communication.

Bahl describes himself as "profoundly deaf." He does not hear, he does not lip read.

In the criminal complaint, the prosecutor wrote that Bahl "would not speak with the officers. He would shake his head and make a negative gesture" as if saying "no."

Then the prosecutor claims Bahl "grabbed the officer's jacket and pulled the officer to the car." Police said Bahl "punched the officer's left arm" and "bit the officer's thumb."

Because Bahl is charged with obstructing the legal process with force, his attorney doesn't want him to go into detail as to exactly what happened during that traffic stop. His lawyer will only say, that Bahl's version of what happened is "very different" from the police version.

"At that time I was in a lot of pain," Bahl said. "I was bleeding. I had an eye swollen shut and it was blurry at that."

When it comes to his attitude towards the police now, he said, "I continue to feel scared. To be honest, I'm scared."

Bahl's son Chris e-mailed friends after the incident, sharing pictures of his father, bloodied and beaten.

In the e-mail he wrote about the police, "They beat the crap, I mean, the crap out of him."

Bahl is talking about what happened next at the Ramsey County Jail, "As I look back on the piece about being in the jail, it is very painful for me now."

Because Bahl was arrested on a Friday, he didn't go in front of a judge until after the weekend. He was there for nearly four days and he said he had no way to tell his family he was locked up.

Bahl claims deputies wouldn't get him a translator, or let him use a special TTY phone for the hearing-impaired.

"I wrote asking for a TTY and I was told 'no,'" Bahl said. "I felt completely isolated from the world in jail, it was very frustrating."

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher has a different version of what happened inside the jail.

"He was offered the TTY machine but chose not to use it," Fletcher said "(He) requested access for e-mail. We're not set up for e-mail access in the jail."

Bahl acknowledged he initially asked for e-mail, but he claims he asked for a TTY phone Friday, Saturday and Sunday before he was finally allowed to use one on Monday, Nov. 20.

His girlfriend, Sue Kovacs, thought Bahl was dead. She found out he was in jail, when an another inmate wrote a note, offering to call Bahl's family.

"I looked at the inmates in this instance, as my heroes," said Bahl. "I mean, they opened the door, they gave me that bridge to communication."

Bahl was released from the jail on Nov. 20. When he went for his first appearance in front of a Ramsey County judge, it had to be continued. Bahl's attorney said that's because there was no interpreter at the hearing.

"I was amazed that the court would not provide an interpreter," Bahl said. "I thought in this day and age, the courts were prepared."

Bahl said he's sharing his story, hoping that none of what happened to him, will ever happen again.

"I want to see deaf people feeling safe with police," he said. "And one thing that keeps us safe, is communication. And when communication breaks down, we feel unsafe.

"Right now, I'll tell you, I don't feel safe," he continued. "I don't. And I think it'll take time, because it's a pretty deep feeling."

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