A deaf man in California has filed a lawsuit against Hawthorne police after reportedly being beaten and tasered while preparing to go to Bible study one year ago. The case has gained national attention because the victim is deaf, and lawyers are concerned about the fact that police either did not notice or were not aware of his deafness or the fact that he primarily communicates in sign language.
"He wasn't doing anything other than trying to get away from people who were hurting him," Jonathan Meister's attorney Paula Pearlman told The Daily Breeze. "We're really concerned about the problem of law enforcement and people who are deaf."
The incident occurred while Meister was loading his car with boxes and bags that he previously kept in a neighbor's backyard. A different neighbor saw him, called out, and when he didn't respond, called the police, who thought they were apprehending a neighborhood burglar. The four responding officers watched Meister for a few minutes, then made a move.
When he saw the police, he began gesturing that he could not hear what they were saying. He walked toward them, hoping to explain or communicate that he was deaf, but officers instead grabbed his wrists and turned him around. They then wrestled with Meister, trying to handcuff him, but Meister, knowing that he needed his hands to communicate, struggled.
"I immediately grabbed onto Meister's legs in an attempt to help them gain control of Meister," Officer Erica Bristow wrote in her report, "but I was unable to get ahold of both legs. I felt someone pull my hair so I raised my head up to see that it was Meister grabbing only my hair."
Officer Jeffrey Salmon then fired a taser gun at Meister, which knocked him to the ground. According to the lawsuit, officers then kicked Meister but still could not control him, so Officer Bristow tased him twice. Officer Mark Hultgren then tased him as well and delivered a "drive stun" to Meister's stomach.
Meister was finally handcuffed and taken into custody, but later released without being charged. He was allowed to tell his side of the story at the station, where he was given pen and paper to write with. Meister was also given his cell phone in order to text for help.
The lawsuit, filed by the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, states that Meister's civil rights were violated because the police department did not have a policy for dealing with deaf or hard-of-hearing suspects. The police department has not commented on the situation.