A deaf man, Jonathan Meister, was tasered and beaten by California policemen after they mistook his attempt at communicating in sign language as a sign of aggression. The recently-filed lawsuit claims that the cops beat Meister to the ground, rendering him unconscious.
Meister, who uses sign language as his primary form of communication, is now suing the policemen for their inability to recognize that, and for violating his rights as an individual with a disability. Neighbors had assumed that Meister was a burglar busting into a house, when in reality he was just picking up some boxes from his friend’s house. He was “removing his own property from the backyard of a friend’s home, with the friend’s consent,” Meister’s lawyer John Burton told the NY Daily News.
The neighbor who called the cops had reportedly yelled out to Meister, who was rummaging through boxes on the porch, but he did not hear her and did not respond.
The four police officers arrived at Meister’s friend’s house in Hawthorne after they received the call. “[The cops] ended up grabbing his arms and turning him around, and if you do that to a deaf person, it’s like gagging them. It would be like if I put my hand over your mouth if you try to tell me something,” Burton said.
“The officers either failed to recognize that Mr. Meister is deaf, cannot hear, and/or failed to take into account that he communicates primarily using American Sign Language,” the lawsuit reads.
As a result of their actions, Meister pulled his hands away and jumped over a small fence to better communicate, but Officers Jeffrey Salmon and Jeffrey Tysl came forward with the two other cops and “shot taser darts into Mr. Meister, administered a number of painful electric shocks, struck him with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground,” the lawsuit reads. “The officers then arrested Mr. Meister allegedly for assaulting them.”
The lawsuit adds that the incident was caused in part by a lack of training in police officers to better serve people “who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Typically, the rights of individuals who are deaf are outlined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.
In Oregon, a deaf man filed a lawsuit against the police after he claimed they laughed at him and violated his civil rights without giving him a sign language interpreter during arrest. David Updike had been arrested for a domestic disturbance and attempted to speak the words, “What did I do?” while using sign language to communicate with the officers, who laughed at him. Updike was later released from jail and had all charges dropped.
Likewise, a deaf woman from Daytona Beach, Fla., also sued police officers after being arrested for a domestic violence charge and not receiving communication aids or an interpreter. The suit claimed that the law enforcement agency violated the ADA.