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AbledResponders Post Banner shows a photo of Jonathan Meister, with bruises and cuts on his face, superimposed over a blurred background photo of yellow taser guns. The headline reads: Special Needs Training: Deaf Man Sues After Being Beaten And Tasered By Police.

Jonathan Meister Knocked Unconscious While Trying To Use Sign Language


After getting a call from a neighbor who thought a burglary was in progress, police responded to an address in Hawthorne, California in February of last year. They came upon Jonathan  Meister who was loading boxes he had left at a friends house.


The officers told Meister to stop loading the boxes, but he continued. That’s because Jonathan Meister is deaf and couldn’t hear the officer’s commands. Then when Meister tried to explain with hand gestures and sign language that he couldn’t hear, one of the officers claims to have interpreted the hand motions for aggressive force and the situation quickly escalated beyond where it should ever have gone.


Meister was allegedly punched, kicked, choked and then shot twice with a taser stun gun and a second officer delivered what’s called a ‘drive stun’ to his stomach area culminating in Meister passing out.


Now, a year later, and after Meister was charged with assaulting police officers-the charge was later dropped- and he is suing the Hawthorne Police Department and its officers Erica Bristow, Mark Hultgren, Jeffrey Salmon and Jeffrey Tysl. The Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness filed the lawsuit this week on his behalf, claiming the officers committed a civil rights violation under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act during the confrontation last year.


This isn’t the first time police officers have faced lawsuits over using excessive force on a person with a disability or chronic health condition. Persons with diabetes have been tasered because they were having a low blood sugar episode and in most of these instances, the police officers involved did not have any training to deal with these conditions or disabilities.


That fact is punctuated by Jonathan Meister’s lawsuit which states that the incident occurred ‘in substantial part, because the Hawthorne Police Department does not provide the officers the training and resources to serve people who are deaf or hard of hearing’. It also states the HPD ‘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.’


For its part, the HPD issued the following Press Release:






February 18, 2014



A lawsuit was filed last week against the City of Hawthorne and Police Department in response to a year-old arrest of Jonathan Meister, a deaf individual contacted during a burglary investigation.


Initial notoriety has centered only on a perspective purported by this claimant and his attorneys; that being that Police Officers failed to neither recognize nor use alternate methods of engagement considering the aspect of hearing impairment. Defense-protocols to litigation preclude many of the immediate responses that this Police Department would normally present in factual contradiction; however, the below is necessitated pursuant to our commitment to the Hawthorne Community and its service:


Hawthorne Police Department Officers are trained to deal with incidents whereby communication, for various reasons, can sometimes be difficult.  Examples range from dealing with persons who speak different languages, those who cannot see, cannot hear, those in shock, or in often cases – agitated or hostile.  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.  That is certainly the case in this specific matter. This was not a case of Police Officers not accurately assessing or mishandling a deaf individual.  This was a case of Meister, a 31-year-old, 6’-03” / 205 pound, ex-collegiate Rugby player, with accompanying physical skill sets, willfully and physically resisting and fighting uniformed Hawthorne Police Officers conducting a felony investigation, which he was the suspect of and no verification of his innocence had been achieved.


The Hawthorne Police Department assures its Community and stakeholders that our highest emphasis is always placed on treating every individual, regardless of attributes or limitations, with professionalism and respect.





The lawsuit comes in the wake of another suit filed against the city of Hawthorne and three of its officers in the fatal shooting of a man’s pet Rottweiler.


And Officer Jeffrey Salmon, named as one of the defendants in the Meister case, was previously one of the defendants in a 2009 lawsuit that alleged a man was kicked in the face while handcuffed and then falsely prosecuted along with his wife to cover up the brutality.


A headline at the time blared, “Hawthorne Police Department Pays $1,000,000 To Settle Police Brutality & Corruption Lawsuit.”


Evidence the plaintiffs were prepared to present at trial included a photograph of an officer appearing to kick the handcuffed plaintiff in the face and a surveillance video allegedly depicting officers high-fiving each other as the injured plaintiff suffered from a broken jaw.”


A story that ran almost two weeks later reported, “A third officer, Jeffrey Salmon, who acknowledged kicking Goodrow twice in the ribs, testified that he was aware of an investigation but was never interviewed.”


A half-hour interview with civil rights attorney Gary S. Casselman discusses that case and the Hawthorne Police Department’s poor record  


We’ll follow the progress of the lawsuit and provide updates when available.


Related Organizations banner


Abled Public service link to World Federation of the Deaf. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link to European Union of the Deaf. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link to the Royal Association for Deaf People in the UK. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link for the British Deaf Association. Click here to go to their website.


ABled Public Service link for the National Association of the Deaf in the United States. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link to the Canadian Association of the Deaf. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link to Deaf Australia Inc. Click here to go to their website.


Abled Public Service link to the Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association. Click here to go to their website.


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