By Christina Santucci
A group of women with limited English-speaking skills and a nonprofit that often works with immigrant clients are claiming in a federal lawsuit that police routinely fail to help abuse victims because of language barriers, a suit that brings to mind the murder of a Guatemalan woman found fatally stabbed in her Jamaica apartment with her young daughters.
Relatives believe Deisy Garcia was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Miguel Mejia-Ramos, who was charged in her killing as well as their daughters’ deaths by the Queens district attorney.
Deisy Garcia allegedly reported the abuse to police, but the documents were not translated from her native tongue of Spanish to English, the New York Post reported.
“The pattern is that the NYPD has policies on paper that everyone should get an interpreter, but in the real world they don’t follow their own policies,” said Edward Josephson, who is representing six women and the Violence Intervention Program in the civil suit filed with federal court in Brooklyn.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said in a statement that more than 1,200 officers are certified to act as translators for the NYPD.
“The NYPD has more foreign language speaking officers than any police department in the country, including thousands of Spanish-speaking officers. In addition, the city has employed Language Line since the early 1990s to assist in interpretation services, initially for 911 and later for additional situations. The most commonly requested languages are Spanish and Mandarin,” the Law Department said. “Also, the NYPD has a corps of 19,000 members of the service who can provide interpretation services in over 70 languages. The department works with Berlitz and Geneva language experts to test and certify officers’ language proficiency.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
The lawsuit was first filed in January 2013, and the city moved to dismiss the case in November on grounds that discrimination based on language is not the same thing as discrimination because of national origin.
Josephson said a ruling on that motion had not yet been made, and he expected the discovery process to take up the rest of this year. He is seeking information about the overall policies and procedures of the NYPD, as well as circumstances surrounding six incidents cited in the lawsuit.
Of the six plaintiffs, one is from Queens.
Wendy Garcia, a 33-year-old woman originally from Guatemala who is no relation to Deisy Garcia, alleges in the suit she called 911 after her boyfriend pushed her and slammed a door on her, injuring her elbow and foot.
Four officers – none of whom spoke Spanish – were sent to where she lived in Richmond Hill, but she was unable to communicate what happened to her, and police allegedly wrote up a report after speaking solely with her boyfriend, the suit alleges.
Garcia believed one officer allegedly threatened to arrest her if she called 911 again, the lawsuit says.
Josephson contended the unavailability of interpreters is a recurrent issue.
“All of our clients made it clear that what they primarily want from the police is an injunction that makes sure what happens to them doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Josephson said.
Deisy Garcia, a native of Guatemala, filled out a domestic-incident report in Spanish after calling officers May 30 to report her allegedly abusive husband, Miguel Mejia-Ramos, police sources told the New York Post.
Garcia wrote in the report that she feared for her life and her young daughters, 2-year-old Daniela and 1-year-old Jocelyn, because she loved the girls so much, sources told the Post.
She filled out a second report in November, the Post reported, about two months before she was found brutally murdered in her Sutphin Boulevard apartment.
Her husband allegedly went into a fit of jealous rage after spotting a photo of his wife with another man, the DA said. He is accused of butchering Deisy Garcia and then hugging and kissing his toddlers and asking for their forgiveness before stabbing them, the DA said.
Mejia-Ramos was arrested in Texas two days after his family was found dead, authorities said.
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-260-4589.