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Police Use Stun Gun on Deaf Man – Thought Sign Language was Threatening Gestures

Deaf CA man sues police department for assault
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Hawthorne, CA police allegedly beat and used a stun gun on a man they thought was threatening them, only to find out he was trying to talk them using sign language.

A lawsuit has been filed by Jonathan Meister this week over a February 2013 incident in which he was handcuffed, beaten and tazed.

Meister was retrieving some property he had stored at a friend’s home when he was approached by several Hawthorne officers. reports Meister was taking the items from a former roommate’s back porch when he was approached by police who thought it looked suspicious.  He met them on the sidewalk, and as he tried to tell them what he was doing using sign language,  they thought he was trying to resist.

After being handcuffed,  the lawsuit says,  the man became profoundly scared.  Meister, according to his attorney, is profoundly deaf with absolutely no hearing ability whatsoever.  Attorney Anna Rivera said when such a person’s ability to communicate – their hands – are taken away, it can be a terrifying experience.

Meister struggled with the officers, who allegedly beat him and used a stun gun to subdue him.   His suit has been filed through the Disability Rights Legal Center, and he is seeking compensatory, statutory and punitive damages.

After he was taken to the Hawthorne police station and charged with officer assault, but after being able to communicate through writing, all charges were dropped.

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