ACLU of Georgia

Deaf Brunswick Resident Part of ACLU Suit Against State

By Wes Wolfe | The Brunswick News | June 22, 2018

A deaf Brunswick man sentenced to serve extensive time in state prison is part of a proposed class action suit against the state Department of Corrections, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Macon.

Jerry Coen was sentenced on Feb. 20, 2007 in Glynn County Superior Court to 10 years for burglary and false imprisonment, and being a recidivist. He originally sued the state government in 2016 while imprisoned at the Central State Prison in Macon, alleging he was virtually unable to communicate because of poor equipment and lack of accommodations for his lack of hearing and for communicating through American Sign Language.


The American Civil Liberties Union filed the proposed second amended complaint, which intends to add at least a dozen other people and, a John Doe, under a class action that alleges violations of the Constitution and statutory law by the DOC toward deaf prisoners, probationers and parolees.


“Everyone deserves a second chance. Deaf individuals deserve the same opportunities as other incarcerated individuals to access educational and other programs that can reduce their sentences, get out of taxpayer-funded prisons, and rebuild their lives,” Sean J. Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “Central State Prison’s failure to provide those opportunities constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment of our U.S. Constitution.”


In his original complaint — which Coen hand-wrote — he said, “I am not able to communicate by (Teletypewriter) which is mostly inaccessible, inoperable, outdated, outmoded and obsolete here at this facility and the many complaints have been resected or when told to the administration, (they) responded back in an abusive manner inconsistent with a less-than-perfect resolution.


“I am also continually discriminated and alienated against by the staff counselors and this institution because there is no program for the deaf with no certified American Sign Language interpreters and/or training programs for me (—) each inquiry to any programs or assistance in education or any help period, leads to abusive reactions, (retaliations) and threats.”


Angela Ellen Cusimano, representing former DOC Commissioner Homer Bryson and other employees at Central State Prison named in the lawsuit, filed a motion to dismiss in September 2017, and the court ordered Coen to respond within 21 days. Coen filed a motion to file a second amended complaint April 17, and the case remained active and switched judges, at which point the court, on June 12, gave Coen 14 days to respond to the motion to dismiss.


Eight days later, Coen’s attorney Claudia Center filed the proposed second amended complaint, which includes the class action status. The state has until July 11 to respond.