by Charlton Stanley, Weekend Contributor
The Hawthorne, CA Police Department has a history of assaultive behavior toward the public. The department’s activities have been reported on this blog before. In one incident, Hawthorne officers Tasered an autistic child, then when his parents complained, they returned and arrested him a week later. Last year, the same Hawthorne Police arrested a man for videotaping them in a public space, then shot his dog when it ran to his side.
About a year ago, Jonathan Meister, a deaf man, was loading his car with some personal belongings, including his snowboarding equipment. There had been several robberies in the area recently. A neighbor yelled at him, but Meister, being deaf, did not hear the call-out, so the neighbor called the police. When the police arrived, the officers watched Meister as he carried some items into his car. When Meister saw the officers, he sat his boxes down and walked toward them, trying to use American Sign Language to let them know he is deaf.
The officers did not respond to his gestures, but grabbed his wrist and spun him around so his back was to them.
Officers Jeffrey Salmon, Jeffrey Tysl, Erica Bristow, and Mark Hultgren allegedly ordered Meister to stop loading the boxes into his car, but Meister could not hear the order. One of the officers then grabbed Meister by the hand, who responded by attempting to use American Sign Language to communicate with the officer.
The officers interpreted his sudden movements as resistance, so they “struck Meister with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground.” Once he was on the ground, one of the officers allegedly shot him twice with a Taser. Another officer then delivered a “drive stun” to Meister’s abdomen.
The officers continued to beat Meister until he was unconscious. They charged him with assaulting an officer, but news reports say the charges were later dropped.
Attorney Paula Pearlman, of the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, filed a lawsuit on Mr. Meister’s behalf. The lawsuit alleges Hawthorne police committed civil rights violations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and used unnecessary aggression.
“Because he is deaf, Mr. Meister depends on using his hands while facing a person to communicate,” the complaint states. “The officers’ sudden aggression, which both caused pain and interfered with his ability to communicate, caused Mr. Meister reflexively to pull his hands away, hop back over the fence and step toward the gate … to create some space so that he could communicate.”
According to the lawsuit, “this incident occurred in substantial part because the HPD does not provide its officers the training and resources to serve people who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Hawthorne police failed “to provide effective communication to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, including himself, who come into contact and interact with the HPD, thereby discriminating against them.”
The complaint alleges that Hawthorne does not have a policy on dealing with deaf or hearing-impaired crime suspects. The lawsuit includes the complaint that the police should have auxiliary aids and services for the deaf and access to a translator who knows ASL.
Hawthorne Police Department officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.
Something is badly wrong with the training and discipline of this particular police department.