TACOMA, Wash. - KIRO TV’s investigative unit has discovered Tacoma police used force to arrest and handcuff an innocent deaf woman after she called 911 for their help.
Instead of an apology, she ended up bloody and in jail for nearly three days without an interpreter before a prosecutor declined to press charges.
After months of digging, investigative reporter Chris Halsne found significant discrepancies in the official police version of events leading up to Lashonn White’s arrest.
Late in the evening on April 6, White said she called for police assistance after a guest reportedly attacked her in her own apartment.
Deaf since birth, White used a special video-equipped phone, connected to a TV and a Web camera, to call 911. A certified American Sign Language interpreter on the other end verbally relayed White’s pleas for help to a Tacoma police dispatcher.
“I said, ‘Please hurry! There’s a person here beating me up,’” White explained to Halsne during a television interview last month.
A recording of White’s 911 call from that evening reveals her urgency.
“Right now! This is serious!”
“She’s fighting at me, then she chokes me. She’s coming right at me!”
Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) logs show Tacoma police officer Ryan Koskovich and his partner, Michael Young, were outside White’s apartment complex in about six minutes.
It also reflects that officers received texts along the way stating, “Person doing the hitting is a Sophia” and “Vict. is Lashonn White.”
In addition, it appears from internal police records obtained by KIRO Team 7 Investigators, Koskovich and his partner were repeatedly given information that the victim could not hear a thing.
On the 911 calls, White herself made it perfectly clear.
“I’m deaf. I can’t hear if they’re out front knocking or whatever … I can’t—are they going to the front or back? Where are the police at?”
Dispatch: “They want her to go outside the front door.”
“Oh, they’re here? Okay, I’m on my way to meet them. I’m going right now.”
White showed our investigative team the route up to the front door from her basement apartment. It’s only one flight of stairs -- a 30-second trip.
To her, what happened next defies common sense -- especially, for a woman with no criminal record, no arrests and just one minor driving violation on her record.
Within seconds of running outside to meet police, Officer Koskovich pulled his Taser and fired a two-barbed electric wire into White’s ribs and stomach.
“All I’m doing is waving my hands in the air, and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground and then handcuffed. It was almost like I blacked out. I was so dizzy and disoriented,” White said.
Witnesses said White began bleeding heavily from her knuckles and the right side of her face swelled up immediately after she hit the pavement following the Taser jolt.
Pictures acquired by Team 7 Investigators also show injuries to her cheek, chin, ribs, neck and arms.
Worse yet to White was the incredible confusion that came with suddenly being handcuffed, under arrest and without the ability to communicate with Tacoma officers, who had no sign language skills.
“The next thing I know, they took me to jail. Told me to stand up, you’re going to jail. I said, ‘What? What have I done?’ I couldn’t figure it out. I had no idea what was going on,” said White.
Officer Koskovich and his partner submitted nearly identical descriptions of the arrest in their reports.
Koskovich wrote in part: "I yelled for White to 'stop' and held my right hand up to signal for White to stop. White ignored my commands.”
He added, "White was making a loud grunting noise, had a piercing stare in her eyes and had a clenched right fist in the air."
Team 7 Investigators canvassed the area near the Taser incident for witnesses because Koskovich and White’s stories are so vastly different.
Margaret Sims’s apartment is right over the spot where White fell to the ground after being tased. She said it was around 11:30 at night and dark, but she heard Lashonn screaming in pain and ran to the balcony.
“I hollered down and said, ‘She’s deaf and can’t speak!’”
Sims says she went down to the street and spoke with officers while Lashonn was still in handcuffs. She told us during an on-camera interview that the police officers at the scene admitted there was a misunderstanding.
“They had tased her because he thought she was coming at him, but what she was doing was running to him. But he said, ‘stop’ and he didn’t put his hand up. He just said, ‘stop’ and she couldn’t understand that,” replied Sims.
Another apartment tenant, Geraldine Warren, said she also heard the commotion and talked to police.
“They just told her to halt. She kept running, she can’t hear—she’s deaf. I said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to say halt like that?’” asked Warren holding up her right hand.
Tacoma police arrested Lashonn on two criminal charges, simple assault and obstruction of a public servant (law enforcement officer). Then they carted her off to jail. She spent 60 hours there – also without an interpreter- before a city prosecutor reviewed her case and asked that charges not be filed at all.
We asked KIRO TV police conduct consultant and former Bellevue police chief Don Van Blaricom to review the conflicting witness and officer accounts of Lashonn’s arrest, plus the officer’s official reports.
He told Halsne the officer’s reports “were obviously written in concert, after the fact, to CYA.”
“The question to ask yourself is: why would she run at police in an assaultive manner when she had asked for them to be there and was going out to meet them?” Van Blaricom wondered aloud.
“A Taser is a very useful device under circumstances which necessitate its use, but it’s too easy to use and frequently used too quickly. This looks like one of those cases,” Van Blaricom told Halsne during an interview.
State law on the employment of ASL interpreters for deaf suspects is clear.
RCW 2.42.120 (4) requires law enforcement agencies conducting an investigation to “appoint and pay for a qualified interpreter throughout the investigation.”
RCW 2.42.120 (5) states “If a hearing impaired person is arrested for an alleged violation of a criminal law, the arresting officer or the officer’s supervisor shall, at the earliest possible time, procure and arrange payment for a qualified interpreter for any notification of rights, warning, interrogation, or taking of a statement. No employee of the law enforcement agency who has responsibilities other than interpreting may be appointed as a qualified interpreter.”
White said despite her repeated requests to police for a certified ASL interpreter, one was never provided.
The story is complex and the officers at the scene clearly had a different point of view. KIRO 7 Investigators have tried to get their explanation for six weeks and while we've talked to Tacoma Police on the phone they would not respond to the allegations. We've also sent them emails and left several messages.
If Tacoma police want to explain their side of the story, we'll have a follow-up.