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This article has been updated with a response from the City of Lawton.
A Lawton man who lives with an unseen traumatic brain injury has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging local officials have repeatedly failed to provide equal access to people with disabilities in an alleged violation of federal law.
Andre Wilson filed the suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on August 19, 2022. It names several defendants, including: the City of Lawton, City Manager Michael Cleghorn, Mayor Stan Booker, City Attorney John Ratliff, City Councilor Onreka Johnson, Kelea L. Fisher, Frank V. Jensen, Neil West, and Michael Jones.
“The City of Lawton, what they’ve been doing is violating the civil rights of people, but they don’t care because nobody ever takes action,” Wilson told The Black Wall Street Times.
According to the lawsuit, Wilson claims the city violated both state and federal law when it allegedly “repeatedly failed to provide equal access to its services, programs and activities to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities while receiving federal financial assistance.”
Wilson said a 2006 car accident that nearly took his life resulted in a traumatic brain injury. He says his life has been different ever since.
What led to disability lawsuit
It all began several years ago when Andre and his wife were seeking custody of his son, Wilson said. His son Rashawn, who also has a disability, had been involved in an abusive situation with his mother’s boyfriend. Wilson said police refused to document the disability when asked to, and that the city never provided him an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) coordinator throughout the court process.
“I was informed that if I had any problem with any public entity to always ask for an ADA coordinator,” Wilson said.
Despite successfully gaining custody of his son, Wilson continued to advocate for the city to adopt modern accommodations for people with disabilities in public meetings and other public venues.
“I told them they’re not following the law and they just kind of placated me,” Wilson said. After years of advocacy, Wilson has decided to sue the city. He says others have reached out to him explaining their own issues with accommodations.
Wilson said he started getting complaints of discrimination from military and hard of hearing communities asking Andre to help them.
“It’s not like they don’t know they’re not following federal law. It’s a reckless disregard for minorities.”
City of Lawton responds to lawsuit
The lawsuit cites four alleged violations by the city: Title II violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, deprivation of rights under color of law, violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, and deliberate indifference.
The Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the City of Lawton, which provided an emailed statement.
“The City of Lawton does not discuss active litigation. However, the City of Lawton takes its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act very seriously and is looking forward to resolving this matter in court.”
Months later, the City gave a more lengthy response to KSWO.
“The City has communicated with Andre Wilson about his concerns on multiple occasions. The City currently digitally streams and closes captions of its council meetings. All of our meetings are open to the public, for anyone to attend, including Mr. Wilson. The City looks forward to responding to Mr. Wilson’s allegations at the appropriate time and place, but in the meantime, we will continue to provide the general public unfettered access to our meetings either in person or virtually.”
The lawsuit is still pending.
For his part, Wilson said he doesn’t want a settlement.
“What I would like is for the city to do the right thing,” he said.
Correction: John Ratliff is the city attorney for Lawton, not the city manager.