After mistaking a deaf man for a thief, beating him, tasering him and choking him because he was unable to understand their commands, the Hawthorne Police Department in southwest Los Angeles has settled a lawsuit for $55,000. The settlement was approved by the City Council on Tuesday.
The deaf man identified as Jonathan Meister and co-plaintiff Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness Inc. will receive the settlement on the basis of civil rights violations under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Meister was at a friends house in February 2013 gathering items from his vehicle when a neighbor called police thinking he was a car thief, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Although there were four officers that responded to the call, Officers Jeffrey Salmon and Jeffrey Tysl were identified as the aggressors.
Once on scene, they yelled out to Meister and he in return motioned that he was deaf.
The officers motioned for Meister to come towards them, which he did, but then they grabbed his wrists and placed his hands behind his back – a very uncomfortable position for Meister given the fact that he is deaf and uses his hands to speak.
The lawsuit, which can be read here, describes how officers Salmon and Tysl got close to Meister and roughed him up. Amidst the miscommunication, Meister ran away from the officers who gave chase, only to catch him, fight with him more and taser him.
The officers pushed Meister up against the wall. Officer Salmon put Meister in a choke hold and subsequently kneed him twice in the abdomen.
Officer Tysl then punched Meister in the face repeatedly.
That was when Salmon shot Meister with a Taser X-26 which brought Meister careening to the ground. Officers kicked and elbowed Meister repeatedly while another officer shocked him a second time with the taser.
After a second choke hold and third Taser shock, Meister lost consciousness.
According to the suit, the 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.”
“They ended up grabbing his arms and turning him around, and if you do that to a deaf person, it’s like gagging them. It would be like if I put my hand over your mouth if you try to tell me something,” says Meister’s lawyer John Burton.
Meister was arrested, taken to the hospital, and then into custody at the county jail, but officials dropped the charges at the jail due to the circumstances.
The suit claims Meister suffered, “extreme physical pain and suffering, humiliation, hardship, anxiety, and indignity, and severe mental and emotional anguish pain.”
Meister is a graduate of the University of Ohio and holds a Masters degree in Architecture. In a recollection of events, Meister’s wrote:
“I didn’t mean to resist — it’s ultimately my responsibility. But, with claustrophobia, logic gets pushed down a bit! I did not mean to resist, only to put space between myself and the officers so I could communicate.”
Per the settlement, the Hawthorne Police Department has pledged to change its communication and use of force policies regarding deaf civilians. The new policy includes providing qualified interpreters to jailed deaf suspects, a booking video and transcript to describe the arrest process, and a video or TTY phone.
Just a few months ago in Charlotte, NC a deaf man was shot and killed by a state highway patrol officer. The man lead officers on a brief high speed chase. When the chase came to an end, the deaf man exited his vehicle charging at the officer on foot who in return fatally shot the man after repeated verbal commands to stop.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol officer has not yet been charged with a crime because the investigation is still pending.