Pearl Featured in ACLU Article

March 21, 2014
By Talila A. Lewis, Founder, HEARD at 1:13pm

These are the most recent additions to the long list of deaf people who have been brutally assaulted by police officers for what has been described by officers as failure to respond to officers’ verbal commands, aggressive hand signaling or resisting arrest.

Two years ago, Robert Kim pulled over to fix a flat tire just before slipping into a diabetic episode. He was seated on the grass when a police officer arrived. Kim tried to make the officer aware that he was deaf, that he had trouble speaking, and that he was in Diabetic shock. Instead of contacting paramedics, this officer and others beat and tasered Kim for failing to respond to their verbal orders. Doctors at the hospital where Kim was subsequently taken assessed his condition as life-threatening.

This January, Pearl Pearson, a 64 year-old deaf man, was attempting to show patrolmen a placard saying ”I am deaf” when they pulled him from his car, brutally assaulted him, dislocating his shoulder and swelling his eyes. Immediately following Pearson’s assault, the officers’ dashboard camera reveals officers cursing after they run a quick check of his license and find out that he is deaf. The district attorney announced that the patrolmen involved would not be charged for this brutal attack on the same day that he charged Pearson—who has two sons who are police officers—with resisting arrest.

And in February Jonathan Meister was carrying his belongings from his friend’s home when officers mistook him for a burglar, determined that his attempts to use sign language were aggressive, and began beating, tasering and choking him to the point of unconsciousness.

These stories highlight the woeful lack of training about — and awareness of — Deaf culture and communication within police departments across the nation. They illustrate the urgent need for systemic change.

Perhaps as alarming as the frequency and severity of these assaults, is the infrequency and leniency of formal charges against the officers responsible. Deaf survivors of police brutality and family members of deaf homicide victims tend to prevail in lawsuits against police, costing taxpayers dearly, but officers are rarely formally charged or dismissed for their actions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes clear that officers must take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with deaf people. This obligation includes providing sign language interpreters and auxiliary aids. But beyond this, there is a clear need for police officers to understand how to communicate with members of the deaf community.

Many deaf people use their eyes and hands to communicate, as opposed to hearing people who more often rely on their ears and voice. Body language and facial expression are key components of sign language. As such, it is not uncommon for people who communicate through sign to create a bit of space between themselves and the other person to ensure that the receiver has full view of the hands, body and face. Officers who misunderstand these and other key components of Deaf culture and communication, may feel threatened and choose to retaliate against a deaf person When police departments ensure that officers are aware of and sensitive to varied modes of communication used by deaf people, this will not only protect the deaf community, but also increase the safety of officers.

The ACLU, HEARD and Marlee Matlin have teamed up to create a sign language video to ensure that deaf people know their rights when interacting with police officers. But Deaf people can only do so much. It is the responsibility of police departments to ensure that their officers are adequately trained.

Excerpted from:

Pearl Pled Not Guilty To Resisting Arrest

OKLAHOMA – For the first time NewsChannel 4 is hearing from a deaf man caught in the center of a controversial arrest with Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Pearl Pearson, 64 was left bloodied and bruised after a traffic stop in January.

OHP accused Pearson of leaving the scene of an accident and resisting arrest, but in court Friday afternoon Pearson said he was not resisting officers.

With help from a sign language interpreter Pearson tells NewsChannel 4 he was trying to communicate to officer, but was not able too.

“The citizens of Oklahoma County will look at this and this wasn’t an ordinary stop,” said Billy Coyle, Pearson’s attorney. “This is not how it should be conducted and the fact that those officers weren’t reprimanded is something we believe should have happened.”

OHP launched a criminal investigation and the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office cleared the three troopers of any wrong doing in connection to the arrest.

Pearson pleaded not guilty. He’s due back in court next month.

Excerpted from:

Troopers Cleared of Brutality Charges

Posted on: 9:58 pm, February 26, 2014, by Ali Meyer, updated on: 11:12am, February 27, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has cleared three Highway Patrol Troopers accused of brutality and charged the deaf suspect at the center of that controversial arrest.

Pearl Pearson, 64, was arrested by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol about 10:30 p.m. on January 3, 2014.

After the arrest, pictures of an injured Pearson surfaced online alleging police abuse because Pearson is deaf.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol immediately conducted an internal investigation of the use of force during that arrest.

However, after intense media attention the patrol launched a second, criminal investigation into the actions of Pearson and the officers involved.

Wednesday, the results of the criminal investigation reveal the troopers will be cleared of wrong-doing and the deaf man will be charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.

Despite a long-standing OHP policy of refusing to release dash cam video, NewsChannel 4′s Ali Meyer has obtained the dash cam video of the Pearl Pearson arrest.

Because of the OHP exception to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, the agency refused to release the tape. However, that video is now part of the criminal case against Pearson.

The dash cam video shows the moments before Pearson’s arrest as Trooper Eric Foster speed toward Pearson’s white SUV, lights and sirens activated, in the area of I-40 and Eastern.

Trooper Foster was one of three troopers called to respond to a call about a hit-and-run incident.
Just a few moments earlier, the driver of a vehicle traveling eastbound on 19th Street in Moore alleges Pearson backed into his vehicle at a red light. The caller told police Pearson the accident was minor, but Pearson had left the scene.

The victim called 911 as he tailed Pearson until OHP arrived.

DA David Prater has analyzed the video to look for evidence of police brutality.

Prater said, what he found instead was “a great deal of restraint” on the part of the troopers.

“They had enough sense about them and showed enough restraint to where they did what they thought they needed to do and nothing more.” Prater said.

According to investigation documents, Trooper Foster and Trooper Kelton Hayes arrived at Pearson’s vehicle at the same moment and initially holstered their weapons as they could see Pearson’s hands on the wheel.

However, both troopers say as they got closer to the SUV, Pearson made a sudden movement reaching down toward his car door which caused them to be suspicious about a weapon.

Prater says, according to trooper interviews both troopers said they motioned and yelled to Pearson to show his hands and to put his hands out of the window.

The dash camera inside Trooper Foster’s squad car recorded the entire ordeal. Most of the action occurs off-screen.

Even though the scuffle cannot be seen, it can be heard.

For five and a half minutes Trooper Foster and Trooper Hayes wrestle with Pearson as he refuses to allow his hands to be handcuffed.

The Troopers said they had no idea he was deaf, but struggled through the violent arrest because they feared he was hiding a gun in his coat.
Pearson is finally taken into custody after a third officer, Trooper Jason Owens arrives and assists in the arrest.

“I wish every law enforcement agency had dash cam because it tells the rest of the story. No matter what the story is (the video) tells the truth.” Prater said. “I relied on it greatly in this case in determining what to do.”

OHP investigators interviewed five troopers, a civilian ride-along who was in the passenger seat of Trooper Foster’s squad car during the arrest, and the three people in the car Pearson backed into.

Each eyewitness says the same thing: Pearson fought the troopers when they tried to take him into custody.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol did not interview Pearl Pearson during the course of their investigation because of a disagreement about their interpreter.

However, Pearson and his attorney, Billy Coyle did submit an affidavit explaining that Pearson wasn’t reaching for a weapon during the stop, but that he was reaching for a hearing impaired placard so that he could communicate with the officers.

The troopers believed he was reaching for a gun.

“You have to comply with law enforcement.” Prater said. “They have to see your hands. Your hands can kill someone. That’s what you grab something with. That’s what you punch people with. That’s what you stab people with. That’s what you shoot people with: your hands.”

When the cuffs were finally on, and Pearson was in police custody his face bore the marks of the violent arrest.

Pearson’s eyes were swollen shut.

He was taken to the hospital to be checked out before he was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail.
According to investigation documents, doctors at the hospital determined Pearson’s shoulder had been dislocated. It was re-positioned before he was transported to the jail for processing.
Pearl Pearson’s defense attorney, Billy Coyle, stands by his client and believes Pearson was unnecessarily roughed up by the OHP.

“I believe he came close to his death that night.” Coyle said.

Coyle is shocked his deaf client is now facing a criminal charge for resisting arrest.

“A minor, minor accident that the officers didn’t witness. They didn’t need to draw guns on him. They didn’t need to yank him out of the car and beat him like some animal. They savagely beat this man for no reason.” said Coyle. “I’m very disappointed the district attorney believes my client resisted arrest. He didn’t resist arrest. He was trying to get his hands in front of him to let them know, ‘I’m deaf. I can’t speak.’”

Prater believes Pearson is also lucky to have survived the night, as the troopers may have been justified in using more lethal force considering their suspicion the suspect may have been reaching for a gun.

“Those who advocate for the disabled I understand that. But you also need to understand the other side of it. Mister Pearson is very fortunate to be alive today and that’s because of his actions.” Prater said. “This was handled the very best it could have been handled by the Highway Patrol and the officers involved.”

Wednesday afternoon DA Prater notified the Oklahoma Highway Patrol that he had cleared Troopers Foster, Hayes and Owens of any wrong-doing in connection with the arrest of Pearl Pearson.

The OHP issued the following statement regarding the clearance of their officers:

The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office recently notified our department that after a thorough review of the facts surrounding the arrest of Mr. Pearl Pearson, Trooper Foster and Trooper Hayes have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. We appreciate the office of District Attorney David Prater for his diligence and the expeditious nature of his examination of this case, bringing it to a timely resolution.

READ: OHP Clearance Letter from DA David Prater

Excerpted from:


Who is Pearl Pearson?
Pearl is a 64 year-old diabetic deaf driver who resides in the Oklahoma City area.

What’s the story?
At this time, only limited details can be provided since this case is under investigation.

1. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol pulled Pearl over late in the evening on January 3, 2014. Pearl pulled over as he should.

2. Pearl’s driver’s license indicates he is Deaf. He also has a visor card inside his vehicle that says, “Driver is deaf”.

3. During the police encounter, Pearl was struck by officers.

4. An interpreter was never provided while Pearl was under the care of law enforcement — not during the booking, hospital, or while at the jail, even though Pearl requested one.

5. Pearl does not understand why he was struck. Pearl and his family are still not sure, but are ready for some answers.

6. Pearl’s own son is a police officer, as was his son-in-law, who is now a deputy sheriff.  He respects law enforcement and knows how to respond when pulled over.  There is no reason for someone like Pearl to be hurt like this by those who are meant to protect and serve.


This deaf gentleman was badly hurt by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers’ excessive force simply because they were unable to communicate with Pearl during a traffic stop. This happened in Oklahoma City, OK on January 3, 2014.

January 4, 2014: 1599166_10152156755070970_1771520290_o

January 5, 2014:

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