Hard of hearing woman may sue after Texas airport arrest, breaking arm in jail

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 3:16 AM HST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE) - A woman who is described as hard of hearing may be suing the city of Austin, Texas, and the Travis County Sheriff’s office.

She said her arrest last year led to her breaking her arm.

The 71-year-old Florida woman was at the Austin airport waiting for her connecting flight, but she didn’t hear that the gate had changed and missed it.

Her attorneys said she was later charged with criminal trespass and broke her arm during the booking process.

The incident happened on Sept. 13 at the airport when Karen McGee was waiting for her connecting flight to Seattle.

She waited at the gate but later learned the gate changed, and her flight left but she couldn’t hear when they paged her.

“She controls her hearing aids through an app on her phone, but at the time the event took place she didn’t know that her hearing aids were actually on a preset setting that didn’t fully cover the sounds that she was missing,” said Makenzie Stuard of the University of Texas Law School Civil Rights Clinic.

McGee was issued a new ticket on Alaska Airlines.

She learned her cousin was on the earlier flight that was delayed, so she asked to get on that one.

“It was a like complete coincidence that she was rebooked on Alaska by Delta and that her cousin was literally sitting at that gate on a plane,” said Rebecca Webber, a civil rights attorney.

McGee’s attorneys said she was trying to communicate with the gate agents, but they were being dismissive.

The agents called security, and McGee grew frustrated and confused, so she sat down.

That’s when Austin police showed up for a disturbance call.

Officers said they tried to deescalate the situation and explained she could either rebook the flight or be arrested for criminal trespass.

“I noticed that you have some hearing aids, OK. I just want to make sure, are you hard of hearing?” an officer is seen on video saying.

An Austin airport employee then reads the criminal trespass charge, but her attorneys say she didn’t know she was given a notice of arrest.

“In this case, the need was for someone to get down and speak slowly and not like huddle around her and intimidate her,” Webber said.

McGee was wheeled out of the airport in a wheelchair and booked into the Travis County Jail where, attorneys say, McGee was shoved against a wall by an officer and her handcuffs twisted with extreme force, causing her to break her arm.

She was booked for three days and only given an Aleve and Advil for the pain.

In a statement, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said, “Oour agency takes the health and safety of the individuals in our facilities very seriously and takes appropriate steps to maintain their safety.”

“They knew she was hearing impaired; they document it in the records,” Webber said.

McGee’s attorneys said the criminal trespass charges have been dropped. They are working to schedule a meeting on Friday with Travis County attorneys.