Akin Gump Pro Bono Lawsuit Yields DOJ Investigation into Treatment of Deaf Inmates at Virginia Jail

A suit filed pro bono by Akin Gump on behalf of a deaf man wrongfully accused of theft and then held for weeks in an Arlington County, Va., detention center without access to sign language translation has spurred a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into treatment of deaf inmates at the facility.

Abreham Zemedagegehu was arrested and jailed without knowing why, spending six weeks behind bars unable, for the most part, to communicate with detention center authorities and sometimes missing meals and recreation times because he could not hear the alerts that signaled them.

The Washington Post interviewed Akin Gump litigation partner Larry Tanenbaum, who has led the representation of Zemedagegehu, for its article “Justice Dept. looking into treatment of deaf inmates in Arlington jail.” Tanenbaum said that talks have been held with attorneys for the county sheriff’s office about settling the matter and noted that those involved are hoping for a resolution that compensates Zemedagegehu and allays DOJ concerns about treatment of deaf inmates at the facility.

“I don’t want to speak for the Justice Department,” he said, “but my sense is what they’re going to be focused on is the detention facility’s compliance with the [Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirements] for the treatment of deaf or hard of hearing inmates.”

Tanenbaum noted, however, that Zemedagegehu remains homeless, adding “He’s doing the best to make do from day to day.”