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Deaf Woman Thrown in Jail for 3 Days and Suffers Broken Arm After Mishearing Travel Agents During Airport Layover

Flight mix-up gets complicated.

An elderly deaf woman was put in jail for three days, where she suffered a broken arm, after she misheard travel agents during a layover in a Texas airport, the Austin Chronicle reported. Florida resident Karen McGee, 71, says she is considering a lawsuit against the city because of what happened last September during the three-hour layover gone wrong. She says that includes being stripped and injured in prison, where she was detained for three days. Read on to find out what happened before and after that.

Flight Mix-Up Gets Complicated

CBS Austin

On Sept. 13, 2022, McGee was waiting for a connecting flight from Austin to Seattle at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. She was flying alone for the first time in her life and nervous because her hearing aids weren't working well, so she sat near the ticket desk to see when her plane would begin boarding, the Chronicle reported. When she noticed the flight hadn't boarded on time, McGee spoke with a ticket agent. She was upset to learn she hadn't heard an announcement that her gate assignment had changed. The flight had already departed, so McGee was issued a ticket for a flight leaving that evening. But the situation soon deteriorated, leading to McGee's arrest.

Denied Ticket Leads to Police Call

CBS Austin

While McGee waited for the later flight, she texted with her cousin and learned there was another flight to her destination parked at the same gate. She asked the ticket agent if she could switch her ticket. She had difficulty hearing the agent's answer but believed it was no, the Chronicle reported. She then repeated her request to a different agent, who called the police.

Attorney Claims Police Interaction Was Botched

CBS Austin

The police officers who responded did not ensure McGee could hear them, claims McGee's attorney Rebecca Webber. During their interaction, an airport employee read McGee a trespass warning. "He doesn't get down on her level at all, which is the only way to get her to hear you," Webber told the Chronicle. "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." McGee was put into a wheelchair and pushed to the front of the airport. She believed she was rebooking her flight. Outside, officers handcuffed her and took her to the Travis County Jail on suspicion of trespassing.

"They Were All Around Me"

CBS Austin

"All I did was stand up and then they were all around me," McGee told the Chronicle. "And I don't remember them saying anything to me, or even to each other." At the jail, McGee said she was shoved against a wall while officers stripped off her clothes. She said an officer told her something she didn't understand. When she asked what they said, another officer twisted her handcuffs with enough force to break her arm.

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McGee Collapsed After Being Released

CBS Austin

While she was held in jail, McGee was given Aleve for her painful arm but not taken to an emergency room, the Chronicle reported. After being detained for three days, she collapsed while being released. When she returned home to Florida, McGee had surgery on her arm, the news outlet said. Back in Austin, County Attorney Delia Garza chose not to prosecute the trespassing case. Counsel at First Appearance Would Have Averted Situation, Attorney Said McGee's attorney said the city would commit to guaranteeing free defense attorneys to people when they are brought to the jail, a process known as "counsel at first appearance," or CAFA. "If Travis County and the city of Austin had instituted counsel at first appearance, every single person involved would have realized that Karen McGee does not belong in jail," said Webber. She called the case "Exhibit A" for why county and city officials need to put the measure in place. 

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