A Southern California man was beaten, Tasered and burned by local cops who thought he was threatening them and didn't realize he was gesturing that he was deaf, according to a discrimination lawsuit he's filed in federal court.
Jonathan Meister, the victim of the beating, filed suit February 12 with the Disability Rights Legal Center against the California city of Hawthorne, its police department, and several of its officers. Among other things, it alleges:
During the early evening of February 13, 2013, HPD officers confronted Mr. Meister as he was removing his own property from the backyard of a friend's home, with the friend's consent. The officers either failed to recognize that Mr. Meister is deaf, cannot hear, and/or failed to take into account that he communicates primarily using American Sign Language... The HPD officers shot taser darts into Mr. Meister, administered a number of painful electric shocks, struck him with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground. The officers then arrested Mr. Meister allegedly for assaulting them.
Meister, the DRLC and the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness—who are seeking compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages—maintain that he wouldn't have been injured if the Hawthorne Police Department had been trained on how to communicate effectively with deaf citizens. The suit says Meister is "profoundly deaf, and therefore substantially limited in the major life activities of hearing and speaking."
Meister had arranged with an ex-roommate to get some things from his backyard, where Meister was storing them, for an upcoming ski trip. But some neighbors thought Meister's presence around the house was suspicious, so they called police. Meister met police on the sidewalk, where they grabbed his hands, rendering him unable to communicate. A struggle ensued.
One officer "tried to put a potentially lethal carotid choke hold around Mr. Meister's neck, and after being unable to do so, kneed him twice in the abdomen," the suit says. At one point, with five cops engaged on him, he was felled by "five seconds of rapidly pulsing electrical shocks" from a Taser shot, where he was kicked "four times in the stomach, and...twice more in the side," as another officer "elbowed Mr. Meister in the face repeatedly" and another picked up the Taser "and delivered several more shocks."
The beating and Tasing allegedly continued, "deliberately burning his flesh with electrical current," until Meister was unconscious. He was then arrested and "taken to the police station, where he was finally provided the opportunity to communicate in writing and was provided his cell phone so that he could text for help."
The charges against Meister were eventually dropped.