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Innocent man beaten and tasered by California police for signaling he is deaf

Published time: February 14, 2014 20:33
Edited time: February 16, 2014 17:19
AFP Photo / Carl de Souza

AFP Photo / Carl de Souza

A California man was allegedly beaten and tasered multiple times by four police officers while attempting to signal that he was deaf. Now, he's suing local law enforcement.

The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Meister by the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, and claims police used excessive force and violated Meister’s civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The incident took place on February 13, when Meister visited a friend to pick up snowboarding equipment that was stored in his home. Suspecting a burglary, a neighbor called out to the man, who didn’t respond because he cannot hear.

When two officers arrived at the scene shortly after, Meister reportedly put his boxes down and tried to use hand gestures to tell them he was deaf. As he approached police, though, the officers supposedly grabbed his hands, turned him around, and attempted to handcuff him.

“Because he is deaf, Mr. Meister depends on using his hands while facing a person to communicate,” the lawsuit states, according to a local publication called the Daily Breeze. “The officers’ sudden aggression, which both caused pain and interfered with his ability to communicate, caused Mr. Meister reflexively to pull his hands away, hop back over the fence and step toward the gate ... to create some space so that he could communicate.”

Police then became more physical with Meister, taking him to the ground with a stun gun. Two other officers had arrived at the scene by this time, and helped the other officials by striking Meister with their fist and feet. The Courthouse News Service reported that in the lawsuit, Meister said police then subjected him to multiple "punishing shocks" with tasers and were purposely "burning his flesh."

Meister was eventually knocked unconscious and taken to a hospital, where he was charged with assault. Police described him as “aggressive and violent” in their report, but ultimately ended up dropping the charges and releasing him.

According to Courthouse News, Meister’s lawsuit claims the entire confrontation could have been avoided if Hawthorne police were trained to properly communicate with deaf individuals.

“We’re really concerned about the problem of law enforcement and people who are deaf,” said Meister’s attorney, Paula Pearlman, to the Daily Breeze. “He wasn’t doing anything other than trying to get away from people who were hurting him.”

The Hawthorne Police Department declined to comment on the situation.

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