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Police arrested a man who didn’t comply with their commands. That’s because he is deaf, a new lawsuit says.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/27/2021 Jessica Lipscomb
Police said they conducted a traffic stop on Brady Mistic after he ran a stop sign. Police said they conducted a traffic stop on Brady Mistic after he ran a stop sign.

When police in Idaho Springs, Colo., saw a vehicle roll through a stop sign on a September evening in 2019, they followed it into a laundromat’s parking lot and turned on their flashing lights.

The driver, Brady Mistic, parked his car and stepped out of the vehicle.

He later said he did not understand what was happening, or even that he was being pulled over — Mistic is deaf and communicates primarily through American Sign Language.

In the confusion, the situation escalated. According to a new lawsuit filed by Mistic, the officers threw him to the ground, stunned him with a Taser and put him in handcuffs. He tried to use some of the words he is able to speak: “No ears.” It seemed to make no difference.

After the encounter, Mistic was charged with resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. He was jailed for four months, during which time he said he continued to struggle to communicate the misunderstanding. The charges were later dropped.

Two years after the incident, Mistic has filed the lawsuit against the city of Idaho Springs and the two officers involved, alleging excessive force, unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution and discrimination against a person with a disability. The suit also accuses Clear Creek County of not properly accommodating his disability in jail.

“This is a civil rights action seeking justice for the shocking use of unnecessary police force and wrongful incarceration of a deaf man whom the Defendant officers rashly attacked after failing to recognize his disability and misinterpreting his non-threatening attempts to see and communicate as challenges to police authority,” the lawsuit states.

In a statement, the Idaho Springs Police Department said the two officers, Nicholas Hanning and Ellie Summers, did not know Mistic was deaf. The department said the police chief had reviewed the incident and found the officers acted appropriately in the situation.

Hanning and Summers made headlines earlier this year in connection with a separate incident that led to litigation. Michael Clark, 75, filed a lawsuit against the officers in late July, saying he was Tasered and roughed up without justification during a police encounter in May. Hanning, who deployed the Taser, was charged with felony assault on an at-risk adult and fired from the police department.

Unarmed 75-year-old Tasered without warning by Colorado officer: ‘What did I do?’

The case involving Mistic happened Sept. 17, 2019. In the lawsuit, Mistic said he got out of his car and was walking into the laundromat when he saw the flashing police lights about 50 feet from where he had parked. He said the officers got out of the patrol vehicle and walked toward him. He raised his hands “in an obvious non-threatening position of deference.”

According to the police department’s statement, the officers ordered Mistic to get back inside his car. But Mistic said in the lawsuit that he still did not know what was happening. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hanning grabbed him by his sweatshirt, threw him to the ground and bashed his head into the concrete, according to the suit.

At that time, Mistic said, Summers also grabbed him and helped roll him onto his stomach. Then, she pulled out her Taser and used it in the stun-gun mode, the lawsuit states.

Mistic said he cried out: “No ears.” Summers stunned him again, according to the suit.

The officers “knew or should have known by Mr. Mistic’s lack of speech, hand gestures, and/or thick-tongued articulation of the words ‘no ears’ that he was deaf and could not hear or understand the officers,” the lawsuit alleges.

During the incident, police said Hanning “suffered a serious leg-break.” But Mistic alleges in the lawsuit that the officer “hurt himself in the course of the attack.”

In addition to alleging mistreatment by police outside the laundromat, Mistic said he was denied basic accommodations for his disability at the county jail, including access to an interpreter. During his four months in jail, he was unable to communicate with staff, inmates or his attorney except through writing, which required notebook paper he often had trouble obtaining.

“Mr. Mistic felt alone, confused, and helpless to understand or interact effectively in the jail environment or with the outside world. He was frustrated that he could not explain that the Defendant officers had misunderstood his behavior, used force without justification and that he was innocent,” the lawsuit states.

Although the charges against him were ultimately dismissed, Mistic said the incident left lasting harm to his physical, emotional and financial well-being.

Hanning and Summers have not formally responded to the lawsuit in court, and attorneys for the two did not immediately return emails from The Washington Post early Monday.

Mistic said in the lawsuit that other officers who have stopped him in the past have quickly picked up on the fact that he is deaf and unable to communicate verbally.

“Mr. Mistic commonly communicates that he is deaf and that he needs to write to communicate by raising his hands, touching or covering his ears, and shaking his head ‘no’ and then mimicking the act of writing on a piece of paper. He has used this pantomimic language to communicate to police officers that he is deaf and needs to write to communicate during several ordinary traffic stops on occasions prior to this one.

“The officers who have encountered him during these stops have not had any difficulty understanding that he was disabled and have provided appropriate accommodations to him in the past.”

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