Cops Taser and Beat Deaf Man, Mistake Sign Language as Aggression

A deaf man was tasered twice by police officers, kicked, and beaten until he was unconscious, all while he tried to use sign language to communicate that he had a disability. Police then escorted Jonathan Meister to the hospital, where he was charged with assaulting the officers. The charge was subsequently dropped.

Meister is suing the Hawthorne California Police Department (HPD) for violating his rights as a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit alleges that the department 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.”

Meister was loading boxes into his car at a friend’s house when police mistakenly thought that he was engaged in a burglary. The four officers at the scene commanded him to stop loading the boxes, but given his disability, Meister failed to heed the officers' orders.

The officers claim that they mistook his sign language hand motions for aggressive behavior. At that point, Officers Jeffrey Salmon, Jeffrey Tysl, Erica Bristow, and Mark Hultgren “struck Meister with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground.”

Moreover, Meister’s lawsuit asserts that the 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.” In a statement to NBC, the Hawthorne Police Department said that “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.”


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