A lawsuit was recently filed in federal court by a deaf man who was beaten, tased and arrested by California police who mistook his sign language for threatening gestures. The 32-year-old man is suing the Hawthorne Police Department for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and causing him great bodily harm. Police misconduct lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm take a closer look at this case and how such an event took place.
The plaintiff, Jonathan Meister, was picking up some of his belongings from a former residence in Hawthorne in mid-February, 2013. On looking neighbors were suspicious of Meister because he was hopping over the fence to get his belongings to his car, and they consequently called the police. Upon arrival, police confronted Meister who tried to use sign language to indicate his deafness.
Officers quickly took Meister’s wrists to handcuff him, however he pulled away to try to continue communication. Officers repeatedly attempted to regain control of the man and put him in handcuffs, despite a lack of cause (the items in Meister’s possession were his own, left outside his former residence by the owner).
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The altercation soon turned violent, taking several officers to subdue Meister. Police reports note that offices repeatedly kicked, punched, and tasered Meister, ultimately booking him on suspicion of assault of a police officer. No charges were filed, however Meister was knocked unconscious and hospitalized for his injuries. In his lawsuit Meister claims that the incident could have been avoided if police were trained on how to communicate with the deaf and hearing-impaired.
A similar incident recently occurred in Moore, Oklahoma, though the misconduct resulted in tragedy. Earlier this year, a family of three went to a movie at the Warren Theater. Just after midnight, standing outside the theater, the mother and daughter got into an argument. Eventually the police were called to the scene, who demanded to see the father’s identification.
The man, Luiz Rodriguez, saw his wife driving away and tried to bypass the officers to stop her from doing so. Officers tackled him and beat him until he was nearly unrecognizable. His wife tried to film the brutal, senseless attack on her cell phone however police took her phone. Rodriguez ultimately died from his injuries.
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These types of incidents are gruesome and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Allegations of police brutality and misconduct are widespread, including claims of physical and verbal abuse, mistreatment of witnesses in custody, and total failure to punish or discipline responsible officers. Organizations like the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) in Chicago were established to reverse this culture of officer immunity and citizen abuse, however, it still continues.
Victims of police misconduct often question when police force is considered excessive. This issue is complex because there are no federal mandates, no binding state policies, and no comprehensive database of how, when, or why police officers decide to use deadly force. Each of the country’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies set their own standards for appropriate force, leaving law and policy in a dangerous, often fatal limbo.
Every day there is a new story about police misconduct with injuries similar to Meister and Rodriguez. To prosecute these cases, police brutality lawyers often rely on a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that police officers must use reasonable force necessary to accomplish a legitimate goal. These terms, however, are extremely ambiguous, and leave wide room for interpretation. The definition of this ruling, therefore, shifts dramatically among local police department policies.
The result leaves all Americans, some much more than others, at risk of unnecessary and brutal police force. Our team of police misconduct attorneys is currently investigating cases of excessive force and potential police brutality nationwide. If you or someone close to you was seriously injured in an altercation with police, contact our firm immediately for a free, confidential case review.