Hawthorne police have a very different story about how a confrontation with a deaf man went down slightly more than a year ago.
Jonathan Meister, a 31-year-old ex-college rugby player whom cops described as 6 feet, 3 inches, 205 pounds, struggled with officers who tried to detain him, according to the department. A police report, included below, says cops on the scene knew immediately that Meister was deaf.
They tried to …
… motion to the architect using nonverbal hand signals but, at least according to the report, Meister was combative every step of the way. As soon as officers approached, one officer said, …
… Meister pointed to his ears, as if to indicate he was deaf. … We used hand gestures to signal him towards us.
But the suspect grappled with cops, police said.
Interestingly, an officer involved in the altercation, Jeffrey Salmon, was also one of the officers who arrested a man whose dog was shot in June after it lunged at officers during a confrontation caught on a pair of videos that went viral.
The suspect in that incident, Leon Rosby, is suing the Hawthorne Police Department. Salmon, however, was not among those who opened fire on the canine, a police spokesman told us.
In the case of Meister, the department says it required several officers to subdue him as he resisted, kicked, ran, and wrestled with the officers. A set of taser darts was activated at least two times but seemed to have little effect, police said.
An officer kneed the man's body multiple times on two separate occasions, police said: That didn't work either. The suspect was also elbowed in the face, according to the report. That didn't seem to get Meister to comply either, cops said.
After this epic, four- to five-minute struggle, an officer's corotid restraint hold appeared to do the trick, making Meister pass out long enough so that cuffs could be put on him and he could be taken to the back of a patrol car, according to the report.
Cops had been called to check out a possible burglary in progress in the backyard of a home in the 3500 block of west 147th Street at 6:34 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2013, police said.
They later determined that Meister was just picking up stuff from a former roommate who had left it out for him, a story also presented by his attorney.
However, when all was said and done, the man was arrested on suspicion of assault a police officer. Charges, however, were initially filed by prosecutors but then were dropped, a police spokesman told us.
In his own statement, Meister said he was “rushing” to load up his stuff in his Ford Explorer so he could make a bible study class that evening.
“I didn't mean to resist,” he states in his own handwriting. “It's utterly my responsibility. I understand. But with claustrophobia logic gets pushed down a bit!”
That, then, is key to cops' side of the story – that Meister resisted because of his claustrophobia, not because of his verbal communication issues, the department is arguing.
But Meister's attorney, John Burton, with the backing of the Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Hawthorne Police Department last week.
The DRLC says:
Hawthorne police officers unlawfully assaulted, brutally tasered, and injured Meister while he attempted to explain to the officers through strong gesticulations that he is profoundly deaf.
Paula Pearlman, executive director of DRLC and Meister's lawyer, says:
We are suing because of the Department's lack of policies and procedures involving communication with people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, as well as their general deliberate indifference to the behavior of its officers during interaction with members of the public.
The department counters in a statement that its officers are trained to work with deaf people.
Officers make every effort to communicate effectively and bring every one of these incidents to the most peaceful resolution feasible. In almost all cases though, it is the contacted person's behavior and actions which dictate police response – not necessarily communication barriers