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m2803 BC-MN-DeafDriver 09-18 0483

Deaf driver convicted of resisting officer, sentence suspended

ST. PAUL (AP) — A deaf college teacher who claimed he acted in self-defense when a police officer got rough with him during a November traffic stop has been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the legal process.

Douglas Duane Bahl, a deaf activist, was acquitted on a more serious charge of obstructing the legal process with force, a gross misdemeanor. His sentence included credit for four days served in jail, a 60-day suspended sentence, a $700 fine and one year of probation.

Bahl, 56, of St. Paul, was also ordered to take anger management classes.

"It’s disappointing he was convicted of anything, because in my view he was the victim of a crime," defense attorney Eric Hageman said. "His actions were all in self-defense, and the police used excessive force on him."

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Prosecutors argued Bahl was combative and resisted arrest when he was pulled over Nov. 17 for allegedly running a red light. Hageman argued the officer couldn’t communicate with Bahl and escalated the situation.

"This case was particularly challenging because of all the intense interest in the deaf community," said St. Paul City Attorney John Choi. "I think this was a great outcome for the city, because it holds the offender accountable, which is Mr. Bahl. This very much justified the actions taken by the officer."

According to the criminal complaint, when Officer Stephen Bobrowski approached Bahl’s vehicle, Bahl shook his head no. The officer, thinking Bahl was deaf, mouthed "driver’s license" and made a card shape with his hand. Bahl again shook his head and said, "No."

Bahl then grabbed Bobrowski’s jacket. Bobrowski ordered Bahl out of the car, and Bahl refused. When Bobrowski went to unbuckle Bahl’s seat belt, Bahl punched him in the arm, the complaint said.

During the scuffle, Bahl bit the officer’s thumb. Bobrowski called for assistance and Bahl was sprayed with a chemical irritant, according to police.

Hageman said police couldn’t account for most of Bahl’s injuries, and that they used deadly force by kicking Bahl in the head. Photos taken near the time of the incident show Bahl with black eyes and blood on his shirt.

Bahl, who lost his hearing at age 2 after a high fever, is an American Sign Language instructor in St. Paul College’s interpreter training program. He is the former president of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens and is active at Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, a local social club for the deaf.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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