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Police Beat, Tasered Deaf Man Trying To Use Sign Language, Lawsuit Says

A deaf man filed a lawsuit saying Hawthorne police officers beat him when he was trying to use sign language to communicate with them (Photo by ChameleonsEye via Shutterstock)
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A deaf man filed a lawsuit after he was allegedly beaten and Tasered by four Hawthorne police officers who didn't get that he was trying to use sign language to communicate with them.

Jonathan Meister, along with the Disability Rights Legal Center, filed the complaint (which can be read in its entirety here) on Feb. 12 against the City of Hawthorne and Hawthorne Police Department. The beating occurred nearly a year ago on the evening of Feb. 13, 2013 when Meister (who is described as "profoundly deaf" in the lawsuit) was moving some of his snowboarding gear from the backyard of his old roommates' home—something he and his roommates had agreed upon earlier.

Neighbors who were concerned that Meister was stealing called out to him, but he didn't hear them because of his disability, so they called the police. When Hawthorne Police Officers Jeffrey Salmon and Jeffrey Tysl arrived at the scene, Meister walked over to them and tried to talk to them with hand gestures, the lawsuit says. However, the officers grabbed his wrists and he jumped back to try to explain with his hands that he needed his cell phone to type and communicate with them.

Things escalated from that point. The lawsuit says:

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According to the officers’ reports, Officer Salmon tried to put a potentially lethal carotid choke hold around Mr. Meister’s neck, and after being unable to do so, kneed him twice in the abdomen.

Then things got worse:

At some point, HPD officers Erica Bristow and Mark Hultgren joined the beating of Mr. Meister. After being unable to pull Mr. Meister to the ground (Mr. Meister played club rugby at Ohio State and instinctively tries to stay on his feet when being tackled), Office Tysl punched him in the face repeatedly while Officer Salmon shot darts from a TASER Model X26 electrical control device into Mr. Meister’s left side, causing five seconds of rapidly pulsing electrical shocks. Officer Salmon reported that the X26 current had the desired result and Mr. Meister fell face down.

The officers allegedly kicked, elbowed and Tasered Meister multiple times before he was taken to the hospital to be treated for his injuries. According to the Daily Breeze, officers said Meister became “increasingly more aggressive and violent" and arrested him, but the charges were later dropped.

Meister argues that he was discriminated against because the Hawthorne Police Department doesn't have any proper training or supervision for officers on how to properly communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the field. The Hawthrone Police Department told the Daily Breeze they do not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit says Meister has a master's degree in architecture from Ohio State University and doesn't have a history of previous arrests.