Deaf citizens file two discrimination lawsuits against Town of Brighton

Alleged Deaf Discrimination

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Deaf Brighton Family Sues Town

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

BRIGHTON, N.Y. — The Town of Brighton is facing two discrimination lawsuits. The complaints allege that Brighton Police discriminated against deaf people they interreacted with, and refused to provide them with an effective means of communication.

The first case was filed by the Matchett family. Doug and Mary Karol Matchett are a deaf couple who live in Brighton. Their son, Scott, was also deaf. The Matchetts claim their son lost his life because of the department’s failure to communicate with them.

ASL is the Matchett’s primary language — which means that written English functions as a second language, according to their lawyer Andrew Rozynski. 

The complaint says that the Matchett family repeatedly called 911 on Scott when he was in severe mental distress. He’d struggled with mental health issues, and had other disabilities including deafness.

When Mrs. Matchett called in early 2021, the complaint says she’d asked for officers and an ASL interpreter to come do a mental health check. While hearing officers arrived, the complaint says the Matchetts were told an interpreter wasn’t available.

That’s the same thing Scott was told when he called 911 in April 2021. Two weeks later, he killed himself. He was 29.

When his parents discovered his suicide, they asked again for an ASL interpreter to be present. The complaint says an interpreter did arrive — after nearly all first responders had left. 

Now, they’re suing the town. Their primary goal, Rozynski said, is change. Part of the complaint reads: “The plaintiffs are haunted by the possibility that effective communication could have saved their son.”

“The goal is to address the harm that had happened its to make positive changes for the future so that it doesn’t happen again,” Rozynski said. “And hopefully set model examples for other police departments so that widespread change can happen.”

The Matchett case isn’t the only allegation. Rozynski is also representing David Blevins, a student at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf.

Blevins had been stopped for speeding by a Brighton officer, according to his complaint. Rozynski said Blevins had had a legally-obtained gun in his glove compartment. Blevins, who struggles to speak, had tried to ask for a paper and pen. The complaint says he was denied.

The complaint alleges that when tried to let the officer know about the gun, he was ineffectively questioned and ultimately arrested, without any written or ASL communication between him and the officers.

Blevins was taken to the jail, where he was given paper to communicate to officers. Ultimately he was released, but his gun remained at the station, and — according to the complaint — Blevins remained confused on what exactly had happened.

This too could have been remedied with interpretors, Rozynski said. 

“Who knows, it could be the next deaf person that gets pulled over and, due to a miscommunication, something bad could happen,” he said. “And so it’s really important that we make improvements to ensure that the deaf community has accommodations.”

News10NBC reached out to Brighton Police and the town. The town’s lawyer provided the following statement:

“The Town is aware of the two recent lawsuits involving allegations under federal statutes against certain officers within the Brighton Police Department. The Brighton Police Department takes great pride in providing the highest level of police service to the community at all levels. The Town plans to try these cases in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion, and fully intends on addressing the specific allegations in its submissions to the Court. Otherwise, the Town is not in a position to comment further at this time.”

Blevins said he and his clients are confident the actions of Brighton PD are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act. The ADA entitles disabled individuals with equal and effective access to certain services, which include things like police.

Barring a settlement, Rozynski said it could take months or years before this is sorted out in courts.

“We just hope that the town of Brighton recognizes where there are gaps in their system and really truly makes strong efforts to provide equal access to their police department,” he said. “Because it can really be a matter of life or death for people.”

Read the Matchett complaint here, and the Blevin complaint here.