An elderly deaf woman may be contemplating legal action against the city of Austin, Texas, after a misunderstanding led to her arrest and a broken arm last year.
Karen McGee, 71, was waiting for a connecting flight to Seattle at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Sept. 13 when she learned her plane changed gates, which subsequently caused her to miss her connection. After getting assistance from a ticket agent, she secured a seat on another flight, but her travel plans would soon be thwarted.
According to the Austin Chronicle, the woman notified a cousin of the changes to her itinerary when the family member told her there was another flight available at her current gate. McGee reportedly attempted to switch tickets, but the agent she encountered was unwilling to do so. Matters worsened as McGee’s hearing aids were not properly functioning, making it impossible for her to understand the agent’s explanation. So, she asked a second clerk, who responded by calling the police to the gate.
When the officers arrived, they placed the woman in a wheelchair, which she believed was being used to transport her to another gate, but instead, she was taken outside the airport. She was then handcuffed and booked into the Travis County Jail. The officers suspected that she was trespassing even though she had a boarding pass.
At the jail, the hearing-impaired woman allegedly faced cruelty in the form of being shoved against a wall, forcefully stripped of her clothing, and having her arm twisted to the point that it broke. She would spend three days in a cell with an aching arm that had only been treated with Aleve. When police finally released her, McGee collapsed, and only then was she seen by medical personnel. Her husband was notified of her whereabouts and what transpired following her detention, and a hotel and flight back home were booked for her. Upon her return, she underwent surgery to repair her broken limb.
Rebecca Webber, McGee’s attorney, said her client’s nightmare ordeal, which marked her first time flying alone, could have been prevented had officers taken the time to speak with her. “He doesn’t get down on her level at all, which is the only way to get her to hear you,” Webber told the publication. “If they had any training about how hearing aids work, they would know that in a loud area, she won’t be able to distinguish just one voice. The person needs to get down on her level, speak slowly, and then she’ll be able to put it all together.” As for the trespassing claim, County Attorney Delia Garza did not pursue charges.
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