Arnaldo Rios Files His Lawsuit

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Arnaldo Rios-Soto is the 27 year old Autistic Man who was involved in the North Miami shooting on July 18, 2016. Arnaldo was sitting in the middle of the street by his group home with his favorite toy truck, rocking back and forth. His hand movements and rocking behavior was self- soothing behavior that is not unusual for an Autistic person. His behavioral technologist, Charles Kinsey, was trying to get him to go back to the home. Eighty-five seconds after it was announced on the police radio that Mr. Rios-Soto had a toy, Officer Jonathan Aledda aimed his rifle at Arnaldo Rios-Soto, and shot Charles Kinsey. Like everyone, Arnaldo’s family saw the video of Charles Kinsey lying on the street with his arms raised attempting to protect Arnaldo. Until last week, it was believed that Arnaldo was held in a police car for over three hours, until he was returned to the group home.

For the three hours after the incident, North Miami stripped away Arnaldo Rios-Soto’s civil rights and human rights. Even though it was known that Mr. Rios-Soto had a toy, he was arrested and handcuffed at gunpoint, held in police vehicles for hours, and then repeatedly questioned, and interrogated at the police station. At all times, each person knew that

Arnaldo Rios-Soto had a disability and was not able to respond to questions. Nevertheless, North Miami disregarded the trauma that he had undergone as a victim, and held him solely in an attempt to extract a confession to exonerate Officer Aledda. Click here to view the custodial interrogation of Arnaldo Rios-Soto. In treating Arnaldo Rios-Soto worse than any criminal who they recognize have constitutional rights, the North Miami Police trampled the bounds of a civilized society and victimized a person who they were obligated to safeguard.

The question that we are most often asked is – How is Arnaldo doing?

Arnaldo Rios-Soto is not doing well, and it will take years for him to recover. After the incident, he went back to the scene of the shooting and was inconsolable. He continues to believe that any person in a uniform is going to hurt him.

Now, the only placement option to provide the increased care Arnaldo needs was in an intensive residential placement in Central Florida that specializes in persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who exhibit complex and extreme behavioral disorders. Arnaldo is currently living in a residential behavioral facility in Mt. Dora, Florida, Carlton Palms Educational Center. Gladys Soto and her daughter moved from their long time residence in South Florida to Ocala to be near Arnaldo.

Prior to the incident, Arnaldo was classified as requiring intensive behavioral care at a level one, from a scale from one to six. Currently, he is at the highest level, or level six, of behavioral needs. Unlike adults or persons who can fully verbally express themselves, it is difficult for Arnaldo to convey how he feels.

For adults, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) manifest by demonstrating a range of symptoms IMG_2558which includes hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbance, mood disorder, emotional numbing, and difficulties with concentration. As a result, PTSD has a correlation with depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, personality disorder, chronic pain, somatization, greater use of medical and mental health resources, and non-compliance with treatment.

However, with a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities who cannot express himself, it manifests itself in aggressive and regressive behaviors. Arnaldo has gained 35 pounds and yells out “Police!” spontaneously, irresponsive of any activity going on around him. He has withdrawn from community or group activities and would prefer to sleep. Because of the lack of appropriate treatment for extreme stress related treatments for persons with intellectual disabilities with limited verbal skills, this will be an extremely difficult road for Arnaldo.

The Lawsuit

The goal for Arnaldo’s family is for Arnaldo to be able to live at home with adequate staffing and treatment, but Arnaldo has a long road before he is able to do that. There is no question that this tragedy could have been worse, and Gladys still has her son to hug and care for, that serves as no excuse to any human being treated as if their rights and lives are worthless.

Arnaldo and his mother brought claims for a violation of Arnaldo’s constitutional rights, as well as his right to be able to live in the community as a person with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Click here to read a copy of the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida,

This event should be a clear call to police departments across the nation to learn about the residents with developmental or intellectual disabilities who live in their neighborhoods. For the past ten years, the North Miami Police responded to incidents in Arnaldo’s group home. Instead of obtaining training regarding these disabilities, they arrested, or tazed the residents of the group home. Disability should not be viewed as a crime, people with disabilities should not be assumed to be dangerous or unstable. Stereotypes of persons with disabilities, as well as the stereotypes of caregivers of persons with disabilities led to this shooting.

 

Disability Discrimination Ordinance Has More Teeth Than A Denture Provider

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Mr. Larry McDowell presented to our office for a consultation on the afternoon of Thursday, March 17, 2016. When Mr. McDowell arrived, he needed to be guided by holding on to someone in order to get places in the office; he will need to bring someone with him who can assist him in walking as it is a liability for the office staff to physically guide him themselves. Mr. McDowell will also need assistance in going over treatment, signing paperwork, and etc.

We Apologize for Any Inconvenience.

When Larry McDowell went to Affordable Dentures in West Palm Beach, Florida, to have a dental procedure on March 17th, there was no reason that he could possibly believe that he wouldn’t be able to get the same services as anybody else. But once Mr. McDowell reached the front desk, he was directed to follow someone to the examination room. Mr. McDowell then said, “I’m blind, could you help to where I’m going?” The employee at the desk said nothing. Once a member of the office staff arrived, Mr. McDowell asked for assistance to the examination room – Mr. McDowell asked to hold her elbow.

She said, “No. We can’t help you unless you have someone to help you. We can’t treat you unless you bring someone to assist you.” Mr. McDowell then asked to speak to the dentist. When Mr. McDowell asked where the dentist was, the employee replied that he was in surgery and would be there for the next two hours. A patient who was watching the interaction told Mr. McDowell, “No he’s not. He’s standing right there.” After the patient’s remark, the employee said to Mr. McDowell, “The dentist doesn’t want to speak to you today.”

Mr. McDowell requested Affordable Dentures to email a copy of written reason to his sister, and they sent the above letter. It was then while Mr. McDowell was waiting in the office, an employee approached him and informed him he could not wait inside the office any longer and must leave, since the dentist would not be seeing him today—with the knowledge that Mr. McDowell had taken public transportation.

The Human Rights Ordinance of Palm Beach County provides more remedies than the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Florida Civil Rights Act by providing both monetary damages and requiring changes of businesses that discriminate against persons with disabilities. It also investigates complaints and attempts to resolve complaints before a lawsuit is necessary.

On July 18, 2016, Mr. McDowell filed a complaint against Affordable Dentures for disability discrimination in violation of the Housing and the Places of Public Accommodation Ordinance. The County did a full investigation and made a finding that Mr. McDowell was the subject of discrimination on March 7, 2017, and with the facilitation of the Palm Beach Office of Equal Opportunity, entered into a Conciliation agreement. While Affordable Dentures did not admit liability, it agreed to the following in an enforceable settlement with Palm Beach County.

  1. Pay Larry McDowell thirty-five thousand dollars;
  2. Provide Mr. McDowell a written apology in an accessible format so he can read it in his screen reader;
  3. Affordable Dentures will not exclude persons with disabilities from its business;
  4. Affordable Dentures will revise its policies and procedures to ensure that persons with disabilities (or their family members or companions) will receive accommodations and its policies will be modified to ensure that persons with disabilities will be provided necessary assistance when patronizing their business; and
  5. Affordable Dentures will provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication.

Larry McDowell’s needs were basic human needs, and the outright denial of needs bases solely on his disability transforms him, in the eyes of this medical provider into a human who is not worthy of these basic needs. Notwithstanding that the ADA is over 25 years old, it is common-place that medical professionals, who are dedicated to the health of their patients, are too often dismissive of their patient’s disability-related needs. Most discrimination against persons with disabilities are not so blatant and ignorant as what occurred with Mr. McDowell.

Mr. McDowell did receive a written apology, not in an accessible format, but, it stated as follows:

Dear Mr. McDowell:

We are aware that your visit to our office for dental consultation on March 17, 2016 did not meet your expectations for the level of service that we strive to deliver. This entire incident has been the subject of substantial scrutiny and review and has resulted in changes to some of our procedures to avoid any such occurrences in the future.

Please understand that it is my personal policy and the practice in my office that all patients and other visitors to our facility are treated with dignity and respect. My staff and I sincerely regret that you left our office feeling that you had not received the level of care you deserve. We apologize for any shortcoming on our part, no matter how unintended it was.

This non-apology does not admit that there was anything wrong with the refusal of services to Mr. McDowell and further implies that Mr McDowell was hypersensitive or irrational in taking offense at the discrimination that he felt.

However, this is not an issue of perception of slight, the greater issue is that because of the type of behavior exhibited by Affordable Dentures, persons with disabilities are less likely to receive needed health care. According to a Disability Healthcare Access Brief published by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, 19% of people with disabilities reported that they did not receive medical care needed in the previous year, compared to 6% of able-bodied persons.People with disabilities tend to be in poorer health and to use health care at a significantly higher rate than people who do not have disabilities.

However, a biding conciliation agreement and a substantial settlement ensures compliance, especially when a law with teeth is more powerful than a pair of dentures.

Happy Fair Housing Month

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April is Fair Housing Month and the time to celebrate the anniversary of the enactment of the Fair Housing Act. Many of you may be asking- “what exactly is the Fair Housing Act, and what are my fair housing rights?”- so here is a brief overview of the Fair Housing Act and some of the most commonly asked about areas of the federal law.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted on April 11, 1968 as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. Since 1966, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr. with a sign that says "End Slums"Jr. marched in support of families who could not purchase or rent homes in certain residential developments solely on account of their race or national origin. Less than a week following Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the Fair Housing Act’s speedy Congressional approval. As Dr. King’s name had been closely associated with the fair housing legislation, President Johnson viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King’s funeral in Atlanta.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as entities such as municipalities, banks and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. State laws and local ordinances provide additional protections for other classes that are frequently discriminated against, including LGBT, age, source of income, marital status, and gender identity. For example, housing providers cannot deny or refuse to rent or sell housing, set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling, falsely deny that housing is available for sale or rent based on any protected class. Similarly, in mortgage lending, a provider may not refuse to make a mortgage loan, refuse to provide information regarding loans, impose different terms or conditions on a loan or refuse to purchase a loan based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. The Fair Housing Act also makes it illegal for anyone to threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right and to advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

The Fair Housing Act includes additional protections if you have a disability. If you or someone associated with you have a physical or mental disability, your landlord cannot refuse to let you make reasonable modification to your dwelling or common areas, at your expense, if necessary for the individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing or refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. The Fair Housing Act also defines discrimination in housing against persons with disabilities to include a failure “to design and construct” certain new multi-family dwellings so that they are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, and particularly by people who use wheelchairs.

The Fair Housing Act requires all newly constructed multi-family dwellings of four or more units intended for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, to have certain features including an accessible entrance on an accessible route, accessible common and public use areas, doors sufficiently wide to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible routes into and through each dwelling, light switches, electrical outlets, and thermostats in accessible location, reinforcements in bathroom walls to accommodate grab bar installations, and usable kitchens and bathrooms configured so that a wheelchair can maneuver throughout the space.

If you have any questions, or need more information, please go to our website at http://www.justdigit.org, or call us at (305) 669-2822. For more details on the Fair Housing Act and your fair housing rights you can also visit http://www.hud.gov. HAPPY FAIR HOUSING MONTH!