Switched At Birth: Emmett Arrested and Handcuffed

To all Switched at Birth (SAB) fans and community members,

As you can see today’s Switched at Birth episode which ends with a ‘cliff hanger’ of Emmett Bledsoe (Sean Berdy) was arrested and handcuffed by a policeman.

Emmett was working on his motorcycle inside garage and he was holding his wrench. All of the sudden, the police car headlights shined at him. He turned his head around to see what was going on, but he was blinded by bright lights. When a Deaf person was blinded by bright lights, the ability to communicate is futile. Emmett gestured by pointing at his right ear indicating that he was unable to hear, and his facial expression was grimacing by discomfort because of bright lights.

The police shouted at him. At this video clip, you will not be able to hear anything, because offered an unique perspective of a Deaf person who was unable to hear and see what was happening. All of the sudden, the policeman manhandled and pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. His hands were cuffed behind his back, cutting him the only means of communication.

I am sure that you were shocked to see this. You may say, “That was not right!”

Yes, that was not right.

I want you to know that what you see is *NOT* uncommon. It is a very common occurrence among the Deaf Community. It happens AT ALL OF THE TIME.

Police’s maltreatment, mishandling, manhandling, and misunderstanding Deaf people resulting terrible consequences. Death usually occur.

Read about them…

Carl DuPree
Errol Shaw, Jr.
John T. Williams
Roger Anthony

and many more who lived are currently suffering by police brutality. Lawsuits were filed. Some won, some lost. Some were traumatized. Some may never recover. Some developed mistrust to police and law enforcement.

National Association of the Deaf condemns this and published information how police and law enforcement should improve their relations with Deaf people. Check this out.

This is a very common problem.

Now, you are aware. Do you want to see Emmett suffer? Think about many “Emmetts” all over who got arrested and handcuffed for a lack of communication and misunderstanding.

This needs to be addressed.

Amy Cohen Efron

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28 comments on “Switched At Birth: Emmett Arrested and Handcuffed

This is very common. I see this a lot at my work as an advocate. Too many complaints. Very cool the part of the episode showed it although I do not have cable or TV at home.

There is a definite need to have a federal law which mandates Sensitivity to Deafness training for all law enforcement agencies. The training should not be just a one-time course; it should be required annually or every other year.

The National Association of the Deaf, the Hearing Loss Association of America, to name just a few should be consulted for relevant input in the design of sensitivity training courses.

News article: Panel finds deaf man’s rights violated. When police investigated [the accident], Brown was one of two witnesses, but the local Police Department didn’t interview him because he is deaf. That was the conclusion of the Maine Human Rights Commission on Monday when it decided the Oxford Police Department discriminated against Brown by not giving him an interpreter at the scene of the accident.

[…] […]

Hi I agree and I wish All Usa Polices must learn how to sign language for their country and I wish they dont hurt all deaf or hearing impaired. Really make me angry if Police ingoring them when they tried to tell I am deaf and can’t hear. IF I am president or governor to telll all of the United State Police must learn how to sign language for them. So Police must undy when they tried to tell I can’t hear and I am deaf that is right for them to know. They should not arrested if some of bad can arrested and good should not arrested. They make me upset when I see I hate that Police dont care there are wrong peroid.

i totally agree with that… on april 17th 2011, Mount Dora Police department arrested me because unable to communication and the officer was mistreated me and then my wife try tell officer that her husband (me) is deaf and please get intertpter but officer refused and push my wife down and hold her down hard so she got strached on her face and my witness was there to tell officer that we both are deaf we need to be communcation by intertper or paper/pen, officer refused and call in 4 more officer to threated my witness to back off and i asked officer in rear of my body “please just loose that cuff so it wont hurt me anymore.” but officer keep refuse for next hours and hours and then i got injuryed and my wife also. we r seeking lawsuit and settlement! and this show really hit me and make me want exposed it to many hearing people to understand what deaf is and what is need when have a deaf client or complaint…


I honestly think that requiring all police officers to be fluent in sign language is asking a little bit too much. I definitely feel like people in general need to care more, enough to learn a little sign language, at least, and I just don’t see how hard it is for police officers to know who the people with hearing problems living within their jurisdiction are, because I can see how a police officer could make a mistake in such a situation. If a police officer/ police chief understands the possibility of such a (often tragic) mistake, it becomes their responsibility as our “protectors” to do everything in their power to prevent such mistakes.

I think that this was a very powerful scene. Absolutely tragic though, that so many people are mistreated because of difference. The entire community, especially those in the police force, trying to protect it must not only tolerate, but embrace the difference in others…starting with those who are deaf.

Police stations need to hire Deaf individuals to work inside, so that they could learn how to interact among Deaf people better. Also, Sensitive to Deaf people training would not be enough. Someone as liaison at Police station, no, at EACH Police station would make a difference.

1/11/12′ – Wed. @4:43p.
I didn’t see the show…I missed it. However, I just saw the clip of the video on here and I thought it was crazy for the officers to assume that they are threatening them instead.

I thought it was really sad to know that the officers are not aware that there are alot of millions of deaf/hoh are also a victims if there are not doing anything wrong. Same idea with by driving a car. Know what I mean.

I don’t blame one of the victims here about suing the lawsuit, I would do the same. Also, I sure agree with the lady about the officers should have been educated at the Police Academy before they are graduating!!! They need to be learned of deaf/hoh before they “assumes” us as a threatening.

So sad to hear that! I wish that the officers are more aware of us also in real life situtations. Know what I’m saying?

i feel so enough and enough i have been through 4 times i never sign the statement or sign in the booking till i get the intrepter if refused best way silence till see the lawyer or public defender then they take care of it i win all the case do not lost ur control or the temper be quiet judge will listen ur statement then they will release and droop ur charges and get back ur money for bail no question for me thank u don it is my experience

In other words, when the ADA law was written to make police departments to learn Sign Language with the deaf community, it is a obvious failure of the Federal law. Whatever what happens next, i’m sure police departments are going to be seeing themselves on TV as well.

i know too much police bruality its not only to deafies they do it to hearings too some no need to get rough but sems those cops they think they re better than any one or they re tougher than we are they re above us but bruality isnt necessary unless htat person gives them a hard time then they ll have to do what they have to do but if we re calm and following what they say then its not necessary to be brutal at all i agree with this its terrible

Hey Amy, thanks for blogging about this topic since it is a life and death matter. Also, it allows us to share the realities that have affected many Deaf people who came across with ignorant cops who chose to neglect their communication needs.

Dont forget to add Doug Bahl and Patti Durr as they had shared their testimonies on how they had suffered under the police authority when arrested.

Doug Bahl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNVG2CsMcsE

Patti Durr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlQmQqzJmLw

I happen to know them and I do know that many, many Deaf people know at least a Deaf person or more who has experienced the unfair and brutal treatment from the police and/or being obstructed to communicate.

So often Deaf victims and survivors are neglected and abused by the police because they thought they were not being responsive on purpose or that they were ignoring their instructions leading to an aggressive arrest and punishment. This is a violation of the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment is not to be tolerated.

I feel that it is becoming prevalent lately because of those incompetent police officers. To begin with, why are they incompetent? It is obvious that there is a need to have an extensive training for the police officers to understand a bit more about Deaf people, their language and their culture. They also need to learn how to detect the meaning of gestures so that they will know what pointing to one’s ear means and how they can use gestures/write to communicate with Deaf people for the time being until an interpreter shows up.

Looking at the current criteria for one to become a police officer speaks for itself that no more than a high school degree is required except for training. I wonder if it is mandatory to have an extensive training about the diversity of the people especially those who are Deaf? It seems to me that they don’t at all as evident by prevalent yet unfortunate incidents.

Police officers are people, people who are put into volatile situations everyday. Their jobs are dangerous. A bad day could end in the accidental shooting of someone who they thought had a weapon.

Yes, some police officers are corrupt bad people. It is really horrible what some of them have done to innocent victims. But, there are also good police officers out there doing the best they can.

Imagine how scary it is for typical police officers, trained to kill and protect themselves, when someone does not respond or when they are holding what could be a gun in their hand or behind their back. For example, in the video, it was dark, Emmett was holding something in his hand and was not responding–how were the officers supposed to know he is deaf? What if they were compassionate and sensitive and thought, “Wait a minute, let’s find out what he is holding in his hand and why he is not responding.” and really Emmett had a gun and shoots them as soon as they let their guards down?

No one can possibly understand what police officers have seen and experienced.

Let’s not paint them all in a bad light and make it seem as if they are all trigger happy insensitive jerks.

Are you telling me that these people in law enforcement are incapable to understand the most simple gesture done by a deaf person pointing at their ears indicating they cannot hear? Come on. Don’t patronize me by telling me these people are basically good people who are in dangerous situation and they are entitled to do whatever necessary. That’s pretty lame of you saying this.

Well, it’s pretty lame of you to assume that in every situation a deaf person who does not hear the police officer, will show the universal sign for being deaf. What if the police officers are unable to see the sign? What if the deaf person does not see the officers? In Emmett’s case, his sign was hard to see, thanks to the bright lights and it being dark. If it was broad daylight and no one made any sudden moves, then I would think the police officers were overreacting jerks.

All I am saying is that while police officers have to understand that sometimes people will be deaf, busy listening to their i-pods, intoxicated or just simply out of it, we have to understand that sometimes the police officers will not be shown the universal sign for “deaf” or will know what is going on.

Police officers will make mistakes and some of them are just evil bastards. But, you can’t make the statement that police brutality against deaf people “happens all the time”. You can say it happens a lot, but don’t make it seem as if every deaf person will be attacked by the police whether they show the sign for “deaf” or not.

We can’t possibly know what it is like to be a police officer while most people will never understand what it is like to be deaf or hard of hearing.

What are some suggestions you have to help with misunderstandings or miscommunications that may occur with deaf people and officers? What should officers do if someone does not respond to their commands?

I am deaf and a forensic psychologist. The simple fact is that upon initially arriving at a scene, officers have to assume control quickly. That can and often does involve handcuffing someone behind their back while they secure the scene and try to determine what is going on.

The original message is erroneous, contradictory, and inflammatory as it states that “death usually occurs” from the handcuffing behind them, and then after a short list, says “and many more who lived.” If death USUALLY occurs, the majority will not be alive.

That aside, deaf people do commit crimes, and they do sometimes kill people. There is known to be quite a problem with domestic violence in the community and domestic calls are the most dangerous calls for officers. The officers cannot take chances with safety until a scene is calm and they have enough help to manage the situation, or until they and the other person are in a more secure setting.

The ADA does NOT require police officers to sign, it does require an interpreter for questioning when the deaf person is a suspect, “person of interest,” or important witness. They will not be able to have that interpreter magically appear with them in the field, so they may have to arrange for the interview at the police station, and if the crime is severe, they can hold you until they can question you. That said, it is concerning the frequency with which there are no interpreters provided for interviews. I see it all the time and it is horrifying. I also see a CODA cop often interpreting even though he is not fluent enough to do so.

The only way to address this problem is to have both sides working collaboratively to understand each other and to come to mutually agreeable solutions. Blaming police for doing what they need to do for safety does nothing. Educating them on what we need to communicate and their educating us on their department’s policies and procedures and what to expect is the only real way to solve the problem.

I totally agree that deaf people have been mistreated by the police WAY too many times and do not condone such behavior, however, there is a potential big “BUT” in this particular episode.

The fact that Emmett was hold a tool (wrench) in his hand and had it up in the air as he pointed to his ear and the police can easily perceive that has being potentially used as a weapon ya know? I am not trying to excuse such mistreatment on the part of the police, but I can pretty much say that odds are good that the behavior on the police’s part may possibly have been different if Emmett had simply dropped the wrench on the floor.

This is what we need to teach the entire deaf community on, if you are approached by the police, and if you have anything that can potentially be used as a weapon in your hands, the first thing you want to do is drop it on the floor and slowly move away from it which still facing the policeman and the police will see you as MUCH less of a threat as opposed to retaining that item in your hands.

Anonymous – amy is very clear that the “happens all the time” is an expression of it is a common experience not a statement to be taken literally that every encounter between a police office and a Deaf person ends up with ur face shove on the oil garage floor and in handcuffs behind the back

nice try

now back to amy’s point

YES this is a problem and thank u for shining a spot light on it

i comment the NAD for having written a VERY strong letter to the Seattle police dept after John T. Williams was KILLED by the cop simply for being a Deaf man walking (see the $1.5 million civil suit the family won)

i do gotta say – the more a learn about the police and justice system re: Deaf folks the more think WHERE HAS THE NAD BEEN?

and i love the nad so i dont like to speak harshly of it but these r perilious situations and im like seriously more lobbying, lawsuits, and slap happiness over captioning when folks r being SHOT or HIT WITH STUN GUNS or SITTING IN PRISON FOR 30 YEARS for something they didnt do and with out access (see the case of Felix Garcia) http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/deaf-prisoners-felix-garcia

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT and could put NAD back on the map as a CIVIL RIGHTS organization

amy thank u again for covering this topic



grr my typos

the word “comment” should read as “commenD”
and the “a” should read as “the more I learn about the police and justice system re: Deaf folks, the more I think WHERE HAS THE NAD BEEN?

im sure there are more (and maybe some in this one ; ) but those 2 might dampen comprehension – hence i add the correction.

when will i ever learn to proof read before clicking submit?

thanks again



oh we have to examine race in these cases too – many of these men (the real cases the the fictious case of Emmett in the garage) were / are African-American, Latino, Native American and Deaf

there race and wrong place / wrong time may prompted the police’s attention but it is their being Deaf that resulted in the police mistreating them further

… Isms often get amplified when more than one difference is present in a person

prejudices CHUCK

in rochester, NY which is a pretty Deaf friendly town about 10 years ago there was two separate incidents where African-American Deaf men were shot dead because they didnt follow the orders they could not hear



curse me – i did it again and again


…. (the real cases NOT the fictious case of Emmett ….)

there race XX THEIR race and wrong place / wrong time may HAVE prompted the police’s attention ….

Rochester….. there WERE two separate….

ok im logging off to protect us all from my typos and my GRRRR about the system. not a good day for me to be going to court smile!

maybe coffee will help



yea…I read all the comments with interest. I will say that it is true, we see deaf/hh being treated by the cops badly but, there were times where they were treated good. Officers of the law have a very tough job to do. Often times, they need to make decisions that are potentially a matter of life or death.

I think it is unfair to portray cops in a bad light. Of course there are good and bad cops. It’s unfair to portray good cops as bad, that is.

I grew up with two cops and one detective in my neighborhood. Their kids were friends with me, and my deaf parents. They all knew my parents. We NEVER had any incident of any kind.

Fast forward eons later, my family moved into a new town, a small town. We started to get bad treatment from the cops. I immediately contacted the police department and spoke to officers..it was a while before I was told by the police department that they appreciated how I had educated them about deaf people. We were treated differently because they knew nothing about deaf people. Instead of going on offensive, I decided to be proactive and teach them about deaf people. I will not go into detail much since it is a LONG story and something I do not like to rehash. One day I might write a book about it. I do not have any hard feelings for law enforcement, however, we do need to be proactive and make ourselves understood by educating Law Enforcement. Mandating all officers to learn sign language is NOT feasible! Certain situations warrants getting an interpreter, not all situation does. Pen and paper will do for some situations. When you are approached by an officer, keep your hands free of anything and out of your pockets! When you are pulled over, do NOT get out of the car!!! Keep your hands on the wheel!

There was one incident where I was riding in the car my brother drove in Chicago, we were going to Chicago Club of the Deaf to see Mayor Byrne give presentation to deaf folks at the club. On the way there, we were surprised to see Mayor Byrne in her Limo motioning to us with a *Thumbs Up* sign, we were like, Awesome!! Little did we know she tried to warn us that there was a cop behind us. As we drove off ramp from the freeway to street on way to CCD, the cop flashed it’s siren on. My brother pulled over, got out of the car and the cops were ready to shoot him!! Then realized at spit second that he is deaf. The cops were MAD. Yelled at my brother, NEVER GET OUT OF THE CAR!!! I COULD HAVE SHOT YOU!! My brother had a temporary registration on the car in the wrong place. We were let go and got to CCD to meet Mayor Jane Byrne. (we were teenagers at the time.)

So, deaf people need to be mindful about what and what not to do when approached by a cop.

There are STILL cops out there that believes deaf people should not be driving!! There are cops out there that are biased.

Yet, there are many good cops out there. Keep that in mind.

My suggestion: Go to your local police station, share your concerns with them. Educate them on how to approach deaf people. Print this post and show it to them so they understand your concern. Get involved in your local hearing community. You’ll be surprised at how many of the officers and/or hearing community will say they learn lots from you. Try it.

There are good/bad cops out there. For our safety, just remain calm and don’t get frustrate trying to communicate with cops. Just calm down as possible. Just say you’re deaf (either by pointing to your ears or try to speak). If they’re giving you a hard time. Just try to relax until you reach to the station. Again, do NOT say anything, besides asking for interpreter. Because if you say something, they do have something against to you. Its HARD but … for safety on both sides. Its tough. Nothing’s easy out there. My uncle was a cop/detective as well. I can understand cop’s other point of view for their safety as well. Too many people lie and may hurt cops as well.

Amy: “Police’s maltreatment, mishandling, manhandling, and misunderstanding Deaf people resulting terrible consequences. Death usually occur.”

I agree that police officers are ignorant in how to communicate with Deaf people. But when you say death “usually” occurs, you are implying that it is a common result. But we all know that death doesn’t usually occur. If that was the case, we would hear of hundreds or thousands of deaths because this example happens to us everyday. But that’s not the case. So it’s not exactly the correct choice of word to send a message implying death ‘usually’ occurs.

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