Innocent Deaf Woman Tasered By Tacoma Police

On April 6th, Lashonn White, a deaf woman, made a desperate call to the police from her home in Tacoma, Washington. With the help of her interpreter, White reached the 911 operator and said, “Please hurry! There’s a person here beating me up.”

Tacoma Police Officers Ryan Koskovich and Michael Young were told several times that White is deaf, yet they arrived on the scene without an interpreter or any necessary communication devices. When White rushed out to the balcony to meet the officers, she was immediately tasered in her ribs and stomach. A disoriented White had barely recovered from the taser’s shock before police arrested her for obstruction and assault of a civil servant.

White spent 60 hours in jail without an interpreter, which violates Washington law as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sadly, White’s story is just one instance in a long list of incidents where law enforcement officials have violated the rights of people with disabilities.

  • In June, Chicago police tasered a woman who was eight months pregnant for parking in a handicapped space. Police claimed they could not tell she was pregnant, although it was obvious to anyone who saw her.
  • Last month, a mentally disabled man was executed by lethal injection in Georgia, despite a United States Supreme Court ruling making it illegal for mentally disabled inmates to be killed.
  • Last September, a mentally ill homeless man was brutally beaten to death by two California police officers.

In a blog post, Charles A. Archer, CEO at Evelyn Doughlin Center for Serving People in Need writes, “inviting people with disabilities to participate in community events and becoming more involved in society” is the best way to enact policy.  The ADA protects disabled persons’ rights on paper, but the question of policy vs. training comes to mind with so many police brutality cases leaving the voices of the disabled lost in translation.

Archer, among many others, argues, “starting an advisory group that includes, in the case of a police department, both officers and people with disabilities, to provide input on shaping policies and training” would give officers not just a law, but an understanding of communicating with disabled persons.

In the instance of Lashonn White’s arrest, officers claim that they did not merely yell stop at the deaf woman as she ran toward them. They put their hands up, palms facing outward to signal stop. Others at the scene recall that the officers did not signal for White to stop at all, which is why White, who could not hear the officers yelling “Stop!” kept hurrying toward the two policemen until one of them tasered her.

The ADA is often referred to as a “feel-good piece of legislation,” as it optimistically outlines the appropriate use of hand signals, interpreters, even the use of a pen and notepad to effectively communicate with deaf and people with disabilities. But police training and community integration are needed to actualize ADA policy. Needless deaths, injuries and discrepancies could be avoided if members of law enforcement were not just told how to communicate with disabled persons, but taught how to communicate and provide the basic rights outlined by federal law.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition demanding the Tacoma Police Department train their officers to communicate with people with disabilities in their community.

Related Stories:

Ohio and Florida Public Schools Lock Mentally Disabled Children In Closets

Vancouver Police Officer Kicks Handcuffed, Nearly Naked Man

Argentine Officers Accused of Torture


Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Darla Taylor
Past Member 6 years ago

This is very sad and heinous. Police need to be taught how to deal with all kinds of disabled people from the physically disabled to the deaf to the mentally disabled, etc. In this case, they knew they were going to help a deaf woman who was being beaten and it should have made sense to them that she would run to them as she thought she was going to get help. It's a crying shame that she was held so long with her rights being ignored. I can only hope the charges against her are dismissed. Petition signed.

Marie A. Hernandes
Past Member 6 years ago

Hans K. H., I agree with you. My first comment was not printed or it went to the dead letter office, so I'll say it this way. I think that most police officers are true to their oath. Unfortunately, the bad cops, the ones that deviate from the norm are the ones making most of the news. There's no doubt in my mind that some have psychopathic tendencies. Also, when does a good cop go bad? I'm sure the stress of the job can do this. But this is no excuse for undue violence while on the job. Police officers are suppose to be above incrimination otherwise they become just another thug with a gun. The suspicious and undue shooting of dogs reported in recent years by officers who seem to be going out of their way to gun down dogs, who are only guilty of running loose, is not normal. And to say that these officers need to be trained on how to handle these situations is just another lame excuse not to investigate the underlying motivies for their actions. The instinct to be humane to all, human and animal should be the principal nature instilled in their hearts.

Huber F.
Huber F6 years ago

Bet she didn't hear him say ma'am before reading his signs..

Hans K. H.
Hans K. H.6 years ago

As an American of predominantly German extraction and a student of history, I see some parallels between present day America and 1930s Germany. As the economy worsens, the need for scapegoats increases. It is always minorities who catch hell as they are least able to defend themselves. In addition, it is my contention that psychopaths are drawn to professions which enable them to entertain their criminal desires without suffering the consequences. The financial industries and the military are good choices for them as well. As a veteran, I can say that I have encountered a few myself. Some top biologists consider psychopaths to be a sub-species of humanity. I would encourage everyone to read about this subject and you will see why the world is the way it is in some respects. Sociopaths are different so read about the differences as some use the terms interchangeably. We all have the capacity for sociopathic behaviour but psychopaths are hardwired. An in depth study of the Tacoma police should be initiated as a test case.

ROLF P6 years ago

And Obama, Clinton and Holder want to disarm Law Abiding Citizens, they truly are MORONS!

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S6 years ago

Could one reason she was tasered while running toward them be that she was African-American? I'm not, but live in Canada right across the border from Tacoma, and the culture changes as soon as you cross the border. Many American ex-pats would never go back.

Lashonn White was in custody without a lawyer or translator for the weekend. The jail had dozens and dozens of translators in the building, but no Ameslan translator to call. Their Teletypedevice for the deaf phone had been broken for a long, long time. They say a videophone would be prohibitive, but an ordinary computer phone with monitor and app, setup in advance, could be used. This woman's legal rights were just forgotten about for the weekend after she'd been attacked for calling the police. People who are deaf are sometimes treated like they're stupid because they don't talk like us. Government has to do better.

Betty J. V.
Betty J. V6 years ago

Something is seriously deficient in the hiring and training practices of these police forces to allow such ignorance and/or lack of visual acuity to carry badges and guns into any community!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

This is just plain sad. The deaf woman put in the call for help -- why did the police taser HER, instead of finding out why she needed help? Why was SHE arrested?

Police need to act quickly, that's their job, but FIRST, ... THINK, LOOK, REASON what the problem is, especially when you've been called to HELP someone. It is ridiculous, that this happened.

Dawn F.
Dawn F6 years ago

Education for all hospital employees!! Family is family!

.6 years ago

Beat those idiots until their mother wouldn't recognize them and then fire them ! Sue the dept into bankruptcy for sending morons out to do a mans job. Inexcusable.