Elderly deaf woman thrown in jail with broken arm after misunderstanding at Texas airport
A misunderstanding at a Texas airport last September left an elderly deaf woman confused and languishing in a jail cell with a broken arm for three days, a report from the Austin Chronicle claims.
On September 13, Karen McGee, a 71-year-old woman from Florida, had a three-hour layover in Austin, Texas, with an ultimate destination of Seattle, Washington. As McGee suffers from severe hearing loss and had never flown alone before, she sat close to the ticket counter at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to await boarding.
Unbeknownst to McGee, there had been a gate change for her Seattle flight. The gate change had been announced over the airport’s intercom system, but with her poor hearing and malfunctioning hearing aids, McGee did not hear the announcement. She missed her flight, but after explaining the situation to a gate agent, she was booked on another flight to Seattle, scheduled to take off later that evening.
McGee also explained the situation to her cousin, who then did some research and discovered that there was an earlier flight to Seattle at the gate where McGee was then sitting. McGee approached the gate agent about placing her on the earlier flight but was refused. She then approached a second gate agent, who ultimately called Austin police.
When officers arrived at the scene, they alleged that McGee was trespassing. The Austin Chronicle indicated that McGee began hyperventilating sometime during her encounter with police and that the hyperventilation may have continued throughout her interactions with them. McGee claimed she had difficulty understanding what the officers were saying
“He doesn’t get down on her level at all, which is the only way to get her to hear you,” said McGee’s attorney, Rebecca Webber. “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.”
According to the Austin Chronicle, officers then placed McGee in a wheelchair, and she assumed they were transporting her to a new gate for a flight to Seattle. Instead, they steered her outside, allegedly stripped off her clothes, twisted her arm to place her in handcuffs, and arrested her for trespassing.
“All I did was stand up, and then they were all around me,” McGee said, according to the outlet. “And I don’t remember them saying anything to me or even to each other.”
McGee woke up in Travis County Jail with her clothes on inside-out and with a very sore arm. Officials allegedly gave her Aleve but no other medical treatment. When she was released three days later, she almost immediately passed out, and a jail staff member helped her contact her husband and book a hotel room for the night.
Others arranged for McGee to be placed on a return flight to Florida, where she underwent surgery on her arm, which had allegedly been broken during the arrest. She is currently considering a lawsuit against the city of Austin.
Travis County Attorney Delia Garza decided not to prosecute McGee for trespassing at the airport.