dear sergeant

I would like to express my appreciation to you and your marshal for meeting with me on Tuesday afternoon, October 18, 2016. We met to discuss the incident earlier that day in which my personal mobility aid was confiscated before my entry to the Maleng Regional Justice Center, and I was required to use a completely unsatisfactory, presumptively unsanitary, and stigmatizing substitute mobility aid in order to obtain access to the courthouse.

Although I appreciated the promptness with which we were able to conduct at least an initial discussion of the incident (indeed, the very promptness and informality with which the meeting was set up may have been a contributing factor), the meeting itself raises an additional concern for me.

I offer the following thoughts for consideration of future meetings of this sort:

You and your marshal, two very tall and imposing men in full sheriff's regalia, directed me, an officer of the court, to a secluded conference room in the courthouse library, to receive my concerns. I laid my cane down—which had been confiscated from me by one of you just hours before as a dangerous weapon!—on the table between us, within my reach, as we spoke.

Many, if not most, people would find providing unsparing criticism face-to-face with two authority figures, particularly law enforcement, alone in a confined and secluded space, a highly intimidating prospect.

I am not asserting that there was any conscious intent to intimidate me. Your choice of venue for our discussion, however, which I was hardly in a position to challenge as an officer of the court bound to cooperate with law enforcement, reflects a lack of understanding of its effects. I would imagine that it is automatic for you to seek to control any situation that you enter, given your line of work, but there is such a thing as overcontrolling a situation. You may also have been wishing to provide confidentiality for a discussion that might be expected to touch on my disability. If so, I thank you for that, but there are better ways to address that concern.

It occurred to me after the fact, but only well after the fact, that, had one of you made a snap judgment, during this meeting, that I was making a “threatening” or “aggressive” move towards my cane, and that I therefore needed to be "subdued," I would have had no way of establishing that the facts were otherwise. Given: the initial suspicion with which my innocent cane was met (to the point where someone who actually had held it in his hand believed that the head was made of metal, rather than resin); the intensity of my feelings about the situation to which I had been subjected; and my tendency to wave my hands around when I talk, I wondered in retrospect if I placed myself at greater risk than I realized by acquiescing in your chosen venue for our meeting. I also wonder now if I should have insisted on a witness/advocate on my own behalf, which was not presented as an option for me, before going forward with our meeting. Indeed, if our recollections differ about what was said during this meeting, since it was not recorded, I have been placed at a (numeric) disadvantage.

You were both clearly taken aback by the intensity of my distress, or at least the force with which I articulated that distress. I am somewhat relieved, in retrospect, that my impassioned plea for treatment with dignity was not misevaluated as potential aggression.

Although I was not daunted at the time by the venue of our discussion, I am sending this followup letter because I suspect that my background and temperament make me unusual in this regard. The difficulty of protest when deprived of access to an accommodation, even for a person such as myself, means that such slights occur much more frequently than are ever brought to your attention. In fact, I did find my initial interaction at the courthouse entrance highly intimidating, and I had to compose myself before I could place my initial call to the ADA coordinator. An intimidating venue, however innocently selected, adds an additional barrier to such issues being brought effectively to your attention.

I hope that you can receive this additional feedback in the spirit in which it is intended. You did ask me in my meeting what suggestions I might have for the future, so I may I add to my suggestion that you develop a coherent policy for mobility aids a suggestion that you use less discouraging venues for the discussion of ADA complaints. I don’t know if there is a usual protocol for these meetings that was bypassed in my case.

As a family law attorney, I want safe courthouses just as much as you do. But as a family law attorney, I also want everyone without ill intent to have access to those safe courthouses. Arbitrary denial of access serves no one. Remember: every cane is a “stick."

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