Lashonn White, who is deaf, contacted 911 after a guest reportedly started attacking her in her apartment on the night of April 6. But instead of getting help, Tacoma police used a stun gun on her and imprisoned her for three days without access to an interpreter, says KIRO. But it was only after spending 60 hours in jail that a prosecutor dropped the charges against White.
Under Washington state law, all individuals who are hearing-impaired must be provided with an interpreter soon after being arrested as well as during any investigation. Says state code RCW 2.42.120 (5):
“If a hearing impaired person is arrested for an alleged violation of a criminal law, the arresting officer or the officer’s supervisor shall, at the earliest possible time, procure and arrange payment for a qualified interpreter for any notification of rights, warning, interrogation, or taking of a statement.”
But failing to provide White with an interpreter is only one violation that she endured. After studying the transcript of the 911 call and other police records, a KIRO investigative reporter, Chris Halsne, found significant discrepancies in the accounts.
White has been deaf since birth. On the night of April 6, after she was reportedly attacked, she contacted 911 using a special video-equipped phone that is connected to a TV and a Web camera. A certified American Sign Language interpreter verbally conveyed White’s request for help to a Tacoma police dispatcher.
Police records indicate that the two Tacoma police officers who were dispatched, Ryan Koskovich and his partner, Michael Young, had been repeatedly told that White was deaf. White herself made this clear on the 911 call, explaining that she would not be able to hear the police knocking on the door and asking where she should go to meet the police.
According to KIRO, White ran out to meet police. Within just a few seconds, Koskovich fired his Taser into her rib and stomach.
“All I’m doing is waving my hands in the air, and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground and then handcuffed. It was almost like I blacked out. I was so dizzy and disoriented,” White said.
White suffered heavy bleeding from her knuckles and swelling on the right side of her face from falling on the pavement. According to KIRO investigators, she also suffered injuries to her cheek, chin, ribs, neck and arms.
But worse for White was the “incredible confusion that came with suddenly being handcuffed, under arrest and without the ability to communicate with Tacoma officers, who had no sign language skills”:
“The next thing I know, they took me to jail. Told me to stand up, you’re going to jail. I said, ‘What? What have I done?’ I couldn’t figure it out. I had no idea what was going on,” said White.
The two police officers submitted “near-identical” reports, says KIRO. Koskovich wrote that he had ”yelled for White to ‘stop’ and held [his] right hand up to signal for White to stop” but that she had “ignored [his] commands” and also ”was making a loud grunting noise, had a piercing stare in her eyes and had a clenched right fist in the air.”
Neighbors who witnessed the incident dispute this account, pointing out that they told police that White was deaf and denying that Koskovich held up his hand as a signal for White to stop running.
One neighbor, Margaret Sims, told KIRO that “They had tased her because he thought she was coming at him, but what she was doing was running to him. But he said, ‘stop’ and he didn’t put his hand up. He just said, ‘stop’ and she couldn’t understand that.”
KIRO police conduct consultant and former Bellevue police chief Don Van Blaricom reviewed the official police report as well as witness and police accounts and concluded that the officer’s reports “were obviously written in concert, after the fact, to CYA.” Why, he asked, would White “run at police in an assaultive manner when she had asked for them to be there and was going out to meet them?”
Will the police own up to the discrepancies in their accounts?
At the very least, the Tacoma police should use the unnecessary tasering of White as a reason to make sure that all officers receive extensive training about individuals with disabilities and the need for accommodations — and why, in such cases, they should not reach first of all for their Taser.