A lawsuit alleges officers from the Hawthorne Police Department beat a deaf man and shocked him with a Taser as he tried to sign that he couldn't hear.
The Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness filed the lawsuit this week on behalf of a deaf man from Manhattan Beach, claiming the officers committed a civil rights violation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act during a confrontation last year.
According to the man's lawyer, the incident happened Feb. 13, 2013, when Jonathan Meister made arrangements to pick up a few belongings from his friend's home on the 3550 block of 147th Street in Hawthorne, east of Los Angeles International Airport.
A neighbor apparently mistook Meister for a thief and called police. The neighborhood, according to a police report, had experienced a recent rash in burglaries.
When officers responded to the area, Meister allegedly motioned to the officers that he was deaf.
"It's my understanding he was doing something like," said John Burton, Meister's attorney, as he pointed to his ear and mouth the words, "I can't hear."
"(It was) to try to indicate that he couldn't hear," Burton said.
Meister was unable to explain to officers exactly what he was doing at the home before officers grabbed him by the wrists, according to the lawsuit.
Because Meister is deaf, he depends on using his hands and reading lips in order to communicate, Burton said. That is why Meister tried to break free of their grip, he said.
"They wound up tackling him, tasing him, choking him, and punching and kicking him on multiple occasions," Burton said.
The suit alleges that Hawthorne police failed to take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with him or furnish appropriate auxiliary aids throughout the course of the confrontation.
Deaf advocates feel the incident involving Meister shows the need for law enforcement to be better trained in areas such as understanding sign language.
In a statement, the Hawthorne Police Department would not comment on this case specifically, but said in part:
"Hawthorne Police Department officers are trained to deal with incidents where communication, for various reasons, can sometimes be difficult. Officers make every effort to communicate effectively and bring every one of these incidents to a peaceful resolution.
"In almost all cases, it is the person’s behavior and actions who we contact that dictate police response rather than the communication barriers present. That is certainly the case in this specific matter."
The lawsuit comes in the wake of another suit filed against the city of Hawthorne and three of its officers in the fatal shooting of a man's pet Rottweiler.