A U.S. Department of Justice review has found the Philadelphia Police Department discriminated against people who were deaf or hearing-impaired.
Philadelphia police handcuffed deaf people behind their back, thus making them unable to communicate with sign language, DOJ wrote in a Dec. 7 letter to the department.
Police did not inform courts that defendants appearing for a video arraignment were deaf, so the individuals did not understand what was happening, according to the review.
And police failed to provide qualified sign-language translators or other services to defendants, victims, and witnesses, according to the review.
DOJ said it was seeking to remedy the problems cooperatively through a consent decree with the department.
"In the event that we are unable to reach such a resolution, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit pursuant to the [Americans with Disabilities Act]," the letter states.
The Police Department issued a statement Friday evening saying it would work with DOJ to fix any problems.
"While the finding and conclusion regarding the complaint are sobering, we appreciate the DOJ's work and their input regarding the matter," the Police Department said.
"We are using this as an opportunity to address a legitimate concern and make necessary improvements. The department's goal is to move beyond remedial measures with a commitment to making this department a model for others in adhering to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act."
The Police Department said it would collaborate with the city's Office of the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and with the Mayor's Commission on People with Disabilities.
The Justice Department review was prompted by a complaint from a man who had been arrested, and that led to four other people who alleged discrimination by police.
According to the original complaint:
In 2013, a 23-year-old man who was deaf was arrested in court after he threw a bracelet hitting two people during a sentencing hearing for his brother.
He was handcuffed behind his back, making him unable to use sign language. While in police custody, a radio room staffer was identified as having some sign language ability, but the man could not understand what was being communicated.
The man asked for a qualified interpreter, but police ended their attempt to communicate and placed him in detention for 16 hours.
During his video arraignment the next morning, the judge was not told he was deaf and the video was not captioned.
Two months later, police arrested him mistakenly for failing to appear in court. His hearing had actually been scheduled for a later date.
He was again handcuffed behind his back, but after his mother intervened, the officers cuffed him in the front. When he explained the hearing had been rescheduled, the officers asked for documentation but would not allow him to search for it.
After he was detained and released, he asked for a telecommunication system for the deaf, but the one police provided him did not work.