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LANGUAGE ACCESS COMPLAINT TRIGGERS HISTORIC RULING AGAINST METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT

Thursday, December 18, 2008

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, December 18, 2008
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Aeda Chung, Marketing Coordinator
202.393.3572 x32; aeda.chung@...
Nadia Firozvi, Staff Attorney
202.393.3572 x23; nadia.firozvi@...

LANGUAGE ACCESS COMPLAINT TRIGGERS HISTORIC RULING AGAINST METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT
(Washington,D.C.) In an important step toward ensuring equal access for limited-English speakers, the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC) today announced details of one of the country's only victorious language access rulings against a law enforcement agency. APALRC filed the District's first language access complaint against the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). In response, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) found MPD to be noncompliant with the D.C. Language Access Act. The D.C. Language Access Act mandates that D.C. government agencies provide the public equal access to government programs,service and information, regardless of language ability, through interpretation and translation of all vital services and documents.
"This ruling is extremely significant not only because it is one of the first of its kind in the nation but because it puts the spotlight on the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and D.C. government, particularly the Office of Human Rights, to ensure the execution of the extra-compliance measures now placed on MPD to decrease the discrimination that Mr. Lee had the misfortune to face," said Jennifer Deng-Pickett,D.C. Language Access Coalition Director.
Mr.Jong Yeol Lee is a Korean-speaking, U.S. permanent resident, who works as a mechanic in the District of Columbia. Last year he was arrested at his home in Virginia. Law enforcement agents never informed Mr. Lee why he was being arrested, even though he asked for an explanation in Korean. Additionally, he asked for a Korean-speaking interpreter several times but was never provided one. Mr. Lee was booked and placed in a detention center cell where he sat for approximately four days, never being advised of any of due process rights, including his right to counsel. He was later transferred to Washington, DC, to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Mr. Lee asked for a Korean-speaking interpreter again, but was never provided one. After several hours, the MPD discovered that Mr. Lee's arrest was a mistake. The MPD provided him with a document that said "Released Without Charge," which was not translated into Korean, thus he did not understand this document. After a few hours, Mr. Lee was finally able to go home.
"The police came to my house at three o'clock in the morning and arrested me in front of my wife and son. I had no idea what was going on. While I was detained for four days, I worried about my family and how we would make a living because I earn daily wages," explained Mr. Lee about his ordeal.
Nadia Firozvi, APALRC Staff Attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of Mr. Lee, said, "Denial of language access prevents individuals from accessing services they are entitled to. In this instance,noncompliance with the Language Access Act led to not only inaccessibility of services, but also a prolonged and unnecessary deprivation of liberty for Mr. Lee."
"The DC Office of Human Rights decision upheld the law and we are extremely pleased," said Myron Dean Quon, APALRC Executive Director. "We are thrilled for Mr. Lee - at the end of the day this case is about the requirement that government agencies provide equal access to limited-or non-English speaking people."


For a more dramatic (but less accurate) version, you can click here to view local TV coverage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtcEAlP-sBc

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