Exclusive: Charges dropped against man at the center of a firestorm

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Prosecutors have dropped the charges against Pearl Pearson, a deaf man who was injured during a violent arrest.

Pearson was arrested in south Oklahoma City on the night of January 3, 2014.

After the arrest, came a firestorm of criticism because Pearson is deaf and he was seriously injured during the ordeal which was captured on one trooper’s dash camera.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater cleared the troopers of all wrongdoing and charged Pearson with a misdemeanor crime.

Thursday, he sat down with Ali Meyer to tell his side of the story, more than three years after the arrest.

Pearson, who is 67 years old now, still drives the white Suburban he was in that night.

He was headed home from a community deaf group meeting when the OHP tried to pull him over for suspected involvement in a hit and run.

The troopers didn’t know he is deaf and non-verbal.

He can communicate with the help of an interpreter.

“You know, they hit me in the face first. After that, I was thrown. I didn’t know why I was handcuffed, and I didn’t know why it was happening,” Pearson said. “After the beating and all that, I tried to communicate (to officers) I need an ambulance. They were like no, no. They were going slow as snails. I was thinking, please Lord, don’t let me die here. When I finally got to the hospital, I thought I’m safe.”

One of the troopers captured the arrest on dash camera.

Most of the action occurs off-camera, but the audio is critical to understanding what happened.

Prater said he used the video and audio in making legal decisions about the case.

“You have to comply with law enforcement,” Prater said when he made the decision charge Pearson in 2014. “They have to see your hands. That’s what you kill someone with. That’s what you use to punch people. That’s what yo use to stab people. That’s what you use to shoot people.”

Troopers feared Pearson had a weapon.

The video and audio from dash camera confirm a struggle that lasted five and a half minutes.

The arresting officers did not know Pearson was deaf until after he was handcuffed and subdued.

Pearson’s daughter, Janice Woods, still has not been able to watch the video entirely.

“I can’t. I can’t hear my dad make those noises. It’s not right,” Woods said. “It has changed our lives forever. Dad has said it. I say it. We can never go back and have the lives we had that day ever again. It has changed us. We are pro law enforcement. When this happened, this was such a shock to us. This was not something we would ever have thought.”

Pearson, his family and his attorney, Scott Adams, fought the charge against him.

They were preparing for trial when the district attorney dropped the case this month.

“He’s 67 years old. He’s never been in trouble a day in his life. He’s a hard worker. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful father to two children, one who is in law enforcement. This rocked his whole world,” Adams said.

Prater dismissed the case citing the cost to taxpayers.

According to the motion filed in district court, the estimated cost to prosecute the case is expected to be very high because of the cost associated with hiring out-of-state interpreters which a judge ruled was required.

“A reasonable estimate of costs approaches $40,000,” Prater said. “It would be irresponsible to spend that kind of tax payer money on a misdemeanor.”

Adams fought for adequate interpreters in court in a legal battle waged over the past three years.

“It’s just, it’s sad to see someone with that type of disability struggle simply because we don’t understand it,” Adams said. “It never should have gotten to this point. I hope now law enforcement will see what happened and enact some regulations.”

Pearson feels relieved the charge has been dismissed, but he is not pleased with the outcome.

He believes he would have won in court.

“They dismissed. But, are they going to make any changes that are going to help deaf people down the road? Are they going to change any policies? Is this going to happen again? That scares me,” Pearson said. 

Pearson keeps a placard in his car that reads: “Driver is deaf. Failure to follow verbal commands means I am NOT hearing you.”

It is his first tool for communicating his disability in a situation where there may have been misunderstanding.

He had the placard in his car the night he was arrested, but he didn’t have a chance to show the officers who acted quickly when they pulled him over.

“All I know is I just don’t get why they beat me up like that,” Pearl said. “They looked at me, and they assumed a stereotype that they assume is the case about all people that look like me.”

Pearson has filed a civil lawsuit against the OHP and the troopers involved in his arrest.

He is still facing a misdemeanor in Cleveland County for alleged involvement in the hit and run incident from that night.

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