A deaf man in Southern California is claiming that cops discriminated against him when, ignoring his attempts to communicate with sign language, they violently arrested and shocked him with a Taser gun.
Last week, Jonathan Meister, along with the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD), filed suit against the City of Hawthorne and the Hawthorne Police department over the reported excessive force, which left his body bruised and burned.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, contains a harrowing account of what happened on the night in question. According to the complaint, Meister was retrieving his personal belongings from the back porch of a home from which he had just moved when he was approached by two police officers who had been alerted by neighbors about "suspicious" activity.
Meister began signing from the home's backyard, and the officers gestured for him to join them on the other side of the fence. Meister "trusted" that the officers could see he was deaf and began walking toward them, signing to tell them about how he had permission to retrieve his own belongings from a friends' house, says the suit. But as soon as Meister was at an arms' length, the officers grabbed Meister's wrists and spun him around to face the other way. Because arms, hands and facial expression are the primary means of communication in American Sign Language, Meister then pulled his hands away from the officers and hopped back over the fence, to give himself another chance to explain what he was doing at the home. That's when things got violent.
The suit claims that police pushed Meister up against the wall, put him in a choke hold and then kneed him twice in the abdomen. One officer then punched him in the face repeatedly, while another officer shot Meister with Taser darts. Once he was on the ground, says the suit, 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 was finally unconscious and officers handcuffed and arrested him.