Activists: Collier Sheriff's Office Neglects Non-English Speakers

Jul 19, 2016

Multiple immigrant advocacy organizations say the Collier County Sheriff’s Office is not equipped to help people who do not speak English. Four organizations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against the law enforcement agency, saying it violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The groups complaining include Florida Language Access Coalition, Valdes Civil and Human Rights Foundation, Farmworker Association of Florida, and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  The complaint stems from an incident earlier this year when a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a Hispanic man who did not speak English.

It all started January 31, 2016 when a Spanish-speaking man called Collier’s 911 emergency line and the dispatcher only spoke English. The dispatcher eventually located an interpreter and called him back. But when the Sheriff’s Office reached the man, he did not speak clearly and hung up.

Advocates say the Sheriff’s Office then traced the call to Immokalee and they sent out a deputy — one who does not speak Spanish.

A police report said Deputy Natalie Ashby was dispatched to Immokalee “in reference to an unverified 911 call.” The Sheriff’s Office was not clear if these two calls were one and the same.

The report said Ashby came across one Hispanic man “striking” another. One man, Miguel Andrades, had stab wounds and asked for help. Another man, Juan Ruiz, was holding a knife and approached the deputy. When Ruiz did not put the knife down, the Sheriff’s Office said the deputy fatally shot him.

Below is the official incident report filed after Deputy Natalie Ashby shot and killed Juan Ruiz:

Advocate Victor Valdes co-filed the federal complaint. He said if the Sheriff’s Office had adequate Spanish interpreters on the phone and in person, this may not have happened. 

"It's not only for this poor man. It’s about families-- other families, other people that they are at risk from the same problem," said Valdes. 

But Collier Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michelle Batten said their practices meet emergency communication standards established by the Department of Justice, the National Emergency Number Association and the Commission Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. She also said the 911 call and the Juan Ruiz case are likely unrelated. 

"Our detectives determine that it's highly unlikely that the 911 call was related to the knife wielding subject, to the incident in question," said Batten. 

The Ruiz case is still under investigation. And it will still be some weeks before the advocacy organizations know whether or not the U.S. Department of Justice will consider their complaint.

Below is the official complaint submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice: