Deaf California man files suit after allegedly being beaten and Tasered for using sign language

Officers didn't realize Jonathan Meister was trying to communicate and thought that he was threatening them.
By Evan Bleier  |  Feb. 17, 2014 at 11:27 AM
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HAWTHORNE, Calif., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A deaf man from Hawthorne, Calif., has filed a lawsuit after he was allegedly assaulted and Tasered by four police officers who didn’t realize he was trying to communicate with sign language.

The Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness’ lawsuit alleges that the officers used unnecessary aggression toward Jonathan Meister about a year ago.

Officers responded to a call about a suspicious person and found Meister removing boxes from the backyard of his friend’s home. Meister saw the officers and attempted to gesture that that he couldn’t hear them. As he approached them, the officers grabbed Meister.

“Because he is deaf, Mr. Meister depends on using his hands while facing a person to communicate,” the complaint states. “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.”

When Officer Erica Bristow arrived on the scene, she found Officers Jeffrey Tysl and Jeffrey Salmon trying to get handcuffs on Meister.

“I immediately grabbed onto Meister’s legs in an attempt to help them gain control of Meister, but I was unable to get a hold of both legs,” Bristow wrote in a report. “I felt someone pull my hair so I raised my head up to see that it was Meister grabbing only my hair.” Meiser was then blasted with a Taser and Officer Mark Hultgren administered a “drive stun” to his abdomen.

Meister was jailed at the Hawthorne police station and then released without being charged with a crime.

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

According to the suit, “this incident occurred in substantial part because the HPD does not provide its officers the training and resources to serve people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

[The Daily Breeze]

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