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Thug Mistakes Sign Language for Gang Signs; Stabs Deaf Friends

Thug Mistakes Sign Language for Gang Signs; Stabs Deaf Friends

Barbara Lee (left) and Marco Ibanez (Photo courtesy of the Broward Sheriff's Office)

Orlando Sentinel via YellowBrix

May 12, 2011

MIRAMAR — Two hearing-impaired men are recovering from stab wounds they suffered when a patron of a Hallandale Beach bar apparently mistook their sign language for gang signs.

Neither Alfred Stewart nor the other man, whose name could not be confirmed, could be reached for comment on Tuesday, four days after the attack at Ocean’s Eleven Lounge. But Stewart’s mother, Brenda Stewart, had a lot to say.

She is still livid over the incident that sent her 31-year-old son to the hospital, where he spent more than two days. A knife wound across the upper left side of his back required about 20 stitches to close.

“If I was there [at the bar], things would’ve been really ugly,” said Stewart, 51, of Miramar. “I don’t know if they were drunk or stupid, but how can you confuse sign language as a gang sign?”

According to Stewart, her son met up with several of his friends for a birthday get-together — not his — on Friday night at the bar in the 800 block of Federal Highway.

Most of the friends are graduates of Miami Central High School in Miami-Dade, where they took classes for the hearing impaired.

Alfred Stewart told his mother that a woman approached the group at the bar and yelled at them, but since they could not comprehend what she was saying, they paid little attention to her. The woman left the bar and returned moments later with a man carrying a knife.

“He doesn’t remember much [about] what happened,” Brenda Stewart said of her son. “He only remembers everyone fighting and then he ran to the bathroom, where he noticed blood all over his shirt.”

Stewart’s son, who became deaf following an illness when he was 4, was resting at home on Tuesday with a sore back. He works for a Coral Gables restaurant, she said.

A woman who answered the phone at Ocean’s Eleven on Tuesday said the bar’s bouncer tried to break up the fight but was hit on the head with a beer bottle. The bouncer, who was not seriously hurt, was back at work the next evening, added the woman, who declined to give her name.

She said police arrived quickly and arrested the man and woman who started the fight.

“What happened here was stupid, very stupid,” she said before hanging up.

Hallandale Beach police charged Barbara Lee, 45, with aggravated battery causing bodily harm, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and probation violation, according to court records.

They also arrested Marco Ibanez, 19, who is charged with one count of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Both were listed as incarcerated at the Broward County Main Jail on Tuesday afternoon.

Hallandale Beach police could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. They told other news outlets that the suspects believed the victims had been flashing gang signs.

Shana Williams, a psychologist at the Center for Hearing and Communication in Fort Lauderdale, called the incident “bizarre.” She said it is not rare, however, for hearing-impaired people to be caught up in angry confrontations.

“Most of the time it’s someone thinking they are being made fun of through sign language, or being mimicked,” she said. “But I’ve never heard of something that has led to such violence.”

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