A deaf Hawthorne resident is suing the Police Department, claiming he was beaten, tased and arrested because officers failed to allow him to use his hands to communicate with them via sign language.
Jonathan Meister, 32, filed a lawsuit in federal court that claims Hawthorne police violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by improperly preparing its officers to deal with the hearing impaired.
According to the complaint, two Hawthorne officers confronted Meister Feb. 13, 2013 when a neighbor spotted him carrying things from a residence to his car. Meister used to live at the home and was picking up his belongings from the backyard where the owner had left them out for him, his suit claims.
Meister was hopping the backyard fence to go in and out of the yard, which appeared suspicious to neighbors, according to the suit.
When police arrived to investigate, they confronted Meister, who tried to signal to them he was deaf, the suit claims.
The officers learned he was deaf when he pointed to his ears, according to their reports.
“It wasn’t until the handcuffs came out that everything went south,” said Lt. Scott Swain.
As soon as Meister was within arm's reach, officers grabbed his wrists and turned him around to handcuff him, according to the suit and police reports. Meister pulled away and officers tried to regain control and turn him around, police said.
The confrontation quickly turned physical and, because Meister is a large man who used to play rugby for Ohio State University, it took several officers to subdue him, Swain said. Police reports show Meister was punched, kicked and tased repeatedly during the incident.
He was booked on suspicion of assault on a police officer, but prosecutors declined to press charges.
According to a report given by Hawthorne police, Meister admitted to pulling away from the officers and said he gets claustrophobic and only wanted to communicate with them. He needs his hands for sign language, his lawsuit explained.
The city has yet to file a formal response to the lawsuit in court.