A deaf inmate at the Lewis County Jail is reporting through his mother and attorney that he has not been allowed regular access to a TTY device — a telephone that allows deaf people to communicate through written messages — and has therefore not been able to have regular contact with his family or attorney.
“I know he messed up and he’s just like everyone else that is in there,” said inmate James W. McMillion’s mother, Gail Goodwin. “He has a handicap. They need to make an exception for that … Everyone else gets to use the phone every night.”
At a hearing in Lewis County Superior Court on Oct. 1, McMillion’s attorney, Brian Gerhart, told Judge Nelson Hunt that he had few opportunities to speak with his client, because McMillion was reporting having little or no access to the TTY.
“He said he had been trying to call people, including myself, on the TTY and not being allowed access to that,” Gerhart told The Chronicle. “His multiple requests have been either forgotten or ignored.”
Jail Chief Kevin Hanson told The Chronicle he was aware of the allegations, but denied that they had any basis in fact. Hanson noted that McMillion’s family members had contacted the jail and griped about his lack of access to a phone.
“It appears to me that he’s having access to it. He’s made lots of phone calls,” Hanson said. “He’s also used the phone without the TTY, according to my phone records.”
According to Goodwin, that would be impossible.
McMillion has been totally deaf since birth and communicates primarily through sign language or text messages, she said. Her son was born as a “blue baby,” and doctors told Goodwin the lack of oxygen damaged his auditory nerves.
“You sit there in a silent world,” she said. “There’s nobody in a cell that can sign with him. It’s total isolation. He needs to be able to communicate in some shape or form.”
Goodwin said she has been receiving calls from other inmates on behalf of her son, who tell her that McMillion wants to call but hasn’t been allowed to use the TTY.
Hanson said McMillion could have given his pin number to other inmates, making it appear he used the phone without TTY.
“The guys that have come forward and called me — it has been so nice that somebody cared about him enough to do something,” Goodwin said. “I don’t know if they’re hanging their necks out when they do it.”
On Wednesday, McMillion, 37, accepted a plea agreement to plead guilty to one charge of residential burglary in exchange for consideration for the drug offender sentencing alternative (DOSA) program. A hearing to set sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 29.
McMillion was arrested Sept. 15 by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of burglary in the 100 block of Jerrells Road in Mossyrock. He allegedly broke into a trailer and stole items.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, who handled McMillion’s change of plea hearing Wednesday, told The Chronicle he was not previously aware of the communication issues. Meyer said at Wednesday’s hearing that his office would forward information about the need for an interpreter at McMillion’s next hearing to the state Department of Corrections.
After the plea hearing, Gerhart requested that McMillion be allowed to leave custody briefly to visit his mother. He said that McMillion was allowed to use the TTY a few times after the Oct. 1 hearing, but in the past few days has again had his requests denied.
“Basically he sits in the jail; he can’t hear anything,” Gerhart said. “He’s locked in a box without the ability to talk to anybody on the outside.”
Hunt denied the request. He did not comment on the communication issue.
“One of the frustrating things to me … is every time I grant that, almost without exception … the person disappoints me greatly, and by that I mean they don’t show up,” he said. “So the answer is no.”
Gerhart told The Chronicle the only way he has been able to speak to his client was by arranging to have an American Sign Language interpreter come to the jail with him.
“He has to sit there waiting until I actually have come to see him,” Gerhart said. “It would put him at a disadvantage (compared) to a client who had full use of their hearing. They could call at any time.”
And they do. Gerhart said other clients call his office from the jail every day.
“It takes more work on my end because I have to schedule and coordinate with the interpreter to see him in person, which obviously can’t happen … at the drop of a hat,” he said.
Goodwin said her son has trouble with anxiety, which gets worse when he is unable to communicate with anybody for an extended period of time. She said she was able to make a few signs to him at his Oct. 1 court date.
“That was the first time I’d talked to him since he was arrested,” she said.
The jail’s inmate phone system does not allow calls to inmates. Inmates have to call out.
Goodwin said her son had a similar experience at the jail in spring 2014. She showed the Chronicle a handwritten log her son kept while in the jail, detailing the days he asked to use the phone and the responses he got from corrections officers, saying the “phone’s down,” there’s “no time,” “not tonight,” or “we will see.”
Hanson said McMillion has not followed the proper protocol on requesting to use the TTY device, which is to send out a formal request through a “kite,” or inmate communication.
“He’s been instructed on what he needs to do to request phone calls,” Hanson said. “There’s nothing really to say — he’s been provided access. He’s not doing what he’s been instructed to do.”
Hanson did not specify how McMillion was instructed to send a kite to ask to use the TTY.
Gerhart said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires inmates to receive equal treatment despite disabilities.
“All inmates at the jail have the ability to talk with their attorneys on the phone — except for him,” he said.
The ADA requires jails, prisons and other correctional facilities to make reasonable accommodations for inmates with disabilities.
According to the text of the act, “Public entities shall ensure that qualified inmates or detainees with disabilities shall not, because a facility is inaccessible to or unusable by individuals with disabilities, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.”
The act goes on to say, “Public entities shall ensure that inmates or detainees with disabilities are housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individuals.”
Gerhart said McMillion’s right to legal counsel might also be affected by his apparent lack of access to communication methods.
He said he could communicate with McMillion through writing, but it would take too long.
“With the process of getting things into the jail, the turn around time isn’t as quick as we need it to be,” he said.
Goodwin said she plans to discuss the issue with an attorney.
“I don’t want him getting off scot-free for anything. I want him to have the same privileges everyone else has,” Goodwin said.