Deaf woman seeks $4.5M in suit against Tacoma, Pierce Co.

by: Chris Halsne, KIRO 7 Investigates Updated:

Tacoma woman Lashonn White, who has been deaf since birth, called 911 to say she was being attacked.

TACOMA, Wash. - KIRO 7 Investigators have confirmed attorneys for LaShonn White, a deaf crime victim who was tased and jailed after calling police for help, just filed a lawsuit against the Tacoma Police Department, the Pierce County Jail and various respective employees.

White's attorney, Christopher Carney, said they are seeking $3 million from Tacoma police and $1.5 million from the Pierce County Jail.

"They all blew it so completely," Carney said.

White’s attorneys cite 16 laws they feel were violated in her case.

The suit states Officer Ryan Koskovich used unreasonable force when he tased White and that the city is liable because it failed to properly train and supervise Koskovich, his partner and superiors who later arrived at the scene.

Lawyers for White also contend she was wrongfully arrested and that both the city and Pierce County discriminated against White, who was born deaf.

KIRO 7 Investigators first broke White’s story in August.

White contacted 911 last April because she said a friend turned violent inside her home, punching and choking her.

She used a special video-enabled phone to call a sign language interpreter who then acted as a liaison between her and police dispatch.

In the 911 call, White told police her friend Sophia Johnson was intoxicated and "choked [her] for no reason at all;" she pleaded for police to hurry and help remove Johnson from her apartment.

At one point, dispatch told White to go out the front doors of her building where police would be waiting.

According to police reports, within minutes of arriving outside White’s apartment, Koskovich tased her.

Neither Koskovich or his supervisors called an interpreter to learn what exactly happened; this, despite White’s requests.

White's lack of access to an interpreter is a major point of contention in her suit against the city and Pierce County.

After being arrested, Tacoma officers booked White in the Pierce County Jail on charges of obstruction and assault. Both accusations were dropped after she spent 60 hours in a jail cell over the Easter holiday weekend.

At the scene outside White's Tacoma apartment, it also appears none of the officers did a cursory check of either woman’s background.

Like White, Johnson was not charged in the incident and because of that KIRO 7 has not formally named her in previous reports.

However, since Johnson is also being named in the lawsuit, we are revealing for the first time that Johnson should have been arrested that night -- at the very least, for an unrelated matter.

Johnson had an outstanding arrest warrant.

The warrant stemmed from failing to appear at a mandatory hearing related to a domestic violence conviction. Last year, Johnson pleaded guilty to choking and threatening her mother with a knife while in a drunken rage.

In White’s case, Koskovich and his partner called Johnson the victim in his official report. Koskovich wrote "[Johnson] cowered as White sprinted toward [them]."

In Carney's opinion, police "told a highly misleading version of what had happened in the affidavit that they used to have [White] locked up for three days."

White has no history of violence and has no criminal record.

When we called Johnson in July, prior to our first story airing in August, she said she didn't remember the police incident with White.

KIRO 7 asked Tacoma police for an interview on numerous occasions to discuss the case and to ask about the side issue concerning Johnson's arrest warrant. All of our attempts were denied.

Pierce County Jail officials did speak to us. Jail workers maintain that White was treated like any other inmate and that they were not required to provide her a sign language interpreter at any point during her 60-hour incarceration.

White spent Easter weekend in jail but that Monday morning, city prosecutors declined to try the case. We called assistant city attorneys and City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli numerous times to learn why they dismissed White's case—all of our calls went unreturned.

We've also contacted county officials, every city council member and Mayor Marilyn Strickland to see if there was a policy review regarding deaf citizens because of White's ordeal.

Deputy Mayor Joe Lonergan was the only person who took our call. He said the city is "not commenting because there’s pending litigation."

White's attorneys contend in their suit that both the TPD and Pierce County Jail violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing her an ASL translator.

"Somewhere along the line they have to get the message that they have to stop discriminating against deafness," said Carney.

In addition to monetary damages, White hopes the federal lawsuit will change police and jail policies.

Lawyers for Tacoma Police and the Pierce County Jail have at least 21 days to respond to the lawsuit.