Deaf man beaten and tasered by police after he tried to communicate with sign language

A sign outside the town of Hawthorne, where the incident occurred. Source: Facebook
A sign outside the town of Hawthorne, where the incident occurred. Source: Facebook

31-year old Jonathan Meister, a resident of the city of Hawthorne in southwestern Los Angeles County, is filing a lawsuit against the local police department after a misunderstanding led to him being beaten and tasered twice by officers.

According to the lawsuit, Mr Meister, who is deaf, was collecting some boxes that he had stored at a friend’s house. A neighbor who observed Mr Meister feared that he was a burglar and reported it to police, who dispatched four officers to the scene.

According to the lawsuit, the officers demanded that Mr Meister stop loading his possessions into his vehicle, but Mr Meister was not able to hear their instruction on account of being deaf. It is alleged one of the officers grabbed Mr Meister’s hand while the victim attempted to use sign language to communicate.

While Mr Meister maintains that he was using sign language, the officers involved claim that the ‘sudden movements’ the victim was making appeared to be resistance, and so they “struck [Mr Meister] with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground”.

Once Mr Meister was lying on the ground, he was then allegedly shot twice by a taser. It is alleged the officers involved then continued to beat Mr Meister until he was rendered unconscious. At this point, the officers took Mr Meister to a nearby hospital, where he was charged with assaulting the officers – a charge that was later dropped.

After recovering, Mr Meister announced his plans to sue the police for a violation of his civil rights under the American with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit filed by Mr Meister includes the following claims: “This incident occurred in substantial part because the [police department] does not provide its officers the training and resources to serve people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

On social media, the reaction to the story was met with shock and disappointment by many members of the community. “Cops are much too aggressive in this country, this is due to a lack of training, improper vetting recruits, no supervision and no accountability,” wrote one man from Los Angeles.

A woman from Seattle had this to say: “The very first thing a deaf person will do is show you they are deaf by hand, or pointing to their ears. These cops were not at all interested in communicating. Guess with the continued abuse of a militia type police force, it’s best for all to remain completely quiet until a “safe zone” is reached.”

International readers also weighed into the debate, with a British user making the following observation: “What is it with cops in the United States? Why do we keep hearing story after story of brutal treatment of innocent civilians going about their day to day lives? If this happened in any other country in the world it would be any outrage, so why do Americans accept this continued mistreatment?”

One local reader in Hawthorne, where the incident occurred, pointed out the irony of the town’s slogan. “There’s a big sign outside of town with the city’s slogan,” he wrote. That slogan is “The City of Good Neighbors”. “After the beating of Mr Meister, I can’t help but feel that doesn’t hold true,” wrote the local man.