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Deaf man sues police over confrontation

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POSTED February 18, 2014 6:53 p.m.

HAWTHORNE  (AP) — A deaf man who said Hawthorne police roughed him up when he tried to communicate with them through sign language has sued the department, alleging federal civil rights violations.

The lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of Jonathan Meister by the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, the Daily Breeze of Torrance,

Meister’s lawsuit contends he was removing snowboarding equipment he had stored at a friend’s home in the Los Angeles suburb in February 2013 when a neighbor concerned about a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood called police.

When officers arrived, Meister gestured to them that he couldn’t hear them, but they grabbed his wrists and turned him around to handcuff him, the suit contends.

“Because he is deaf, Mr. Meister depends on using his hands while facing a person to communicate,” the complaint states. “The officers’ sudden aggression ... caused Mr. Meister reflexively to pull his hands away, hop back over the fence and step toward the gate.”

The suit and police reports said a struggle ensued during which four officers punched, kicked and twice shocked Meister with a stun gun before handcuffing and arresting him.

The officers contended that Meister violently resisted, but he wasn’t charged with a crime.

“We’re really concerned about the problem of law enforcement and people who are deaf,” Meister’s attorney, Paula Pearlman, told the newspaper. “He wasn’t doing anything other than trying to get away from people who were hurting him.”

The suit contends that the Police Department discriminates against the deaf by failing to provide officers with training or support services such as translators to deal with the hard-of-hearing.

Hawthorne Police Department officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.

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