Thursday, June 22

Community responds to Taser use in Powell


RAW FOOTAGE Click here to see
footage of the taser incident.

An incident late Tuesday night in which a UCLA student was
stunned at least four times with a Taser has left the UCLA
community questioning whether the university police officers’
use of force was an appropriate response to the situation.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a UCLA student, was repeatedly stunned
with a Taser and then taken into custody when he did not exit the
CLICC Lab in Powell Library in a timely manner. Community Service
Officers had asked Tabatabainejad to leave after he failed to
produce his BruinCard during a random check at around 11:30 p.m.
Tuesday.

UCPD Assistant Chief of Police Jeff Young said the checks are a
standard procedure in the library after 11 p.m.

"Because of the safety of the students we limit the use after 11
to just students, staff and faculty," Young said.

Young said the CSOs on duty in the library at the time went to
get UCPD officers when Tabatabainejad did not immediately leave,
and UCPD officers resorted to use of the Taser when Tabatabainejad
did not do as he was told.

A six-minute video showed Tabatabainejad audibly screaming in
pain as he was stunned several times with a Taser, each time for
three to five seconds. He was told repeatedly to stand up and stop
fighting, and was told that if he did not do so he would “get
Tased again.”

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Tabatabainejad was also stunned with the Taser when he was
already handcuffed, said Carlos Zaragoza, a third-year English and
history student who witnessed the incident.

“(He was) no possible danger to any of the police,”
Zaragoza said. “(He was) getting shocked and Tasered as he
was handcuffed.”

But Young said at the time the police likely had no way of
knowing whether the individual was armed or that he was a
student.

As Tabatabainejad was being dragged through the room by two
officers, he repeated in a strained scream, “I’m not
fighting you” and “I said I would leave.”

The officers used the “drive stun” setting in the
Taser, which delivers a shock to a specific part of the body with
the front of the Taser, Young said.

A Taser delivers volts of low-amperage energy to the body,
causing a disruption of the body’s electrical energy pulses
and locking the muscles, according to a report by the American
Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s an electrical shock. … It causes
pain,” Young said, adding that the drive stun would not
likely demobilize a person or cause residual pain after the shock
was administered. Young also said a Taser is less forceful than a
baton, for example.

But others warned against underestimating the effects of a
Taser.

“It is a real mistake to treat a Taser as some benign
thing that painlessly brings people under control,” said
Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney at the ACLU of Southern
California.

“The Taser can be incredibly violent and result in
death,” Eliasberg said.

According to an ACLU report, 148 people in the United States and
Canada have died as a result of the use of Tasers since 1999.

During the altercation between Tabatabainejad and the officers,
bystanders can be heard in the video repeatedly asking the officers
to stop and requesting their names and identification numbers. The
video showed one officer responding to a student by threatening
that the student would “get Tased too.” At this point,
the officer was still holding a Taser.

Such a threat of the use of force by a law enforcement officer
in response to a request for a badge number is an “illegal
assault,” Eliasberg said.

“It is absolutely illegal to threaten anyone who asks for
a badge — that’s assault,” he
said.

Tabatabainejad was released from custody after being given a
citation for obstruction/delay of a peace officer in the
performance of duty.

Neither Tabatabainejad nor his family were giving interviews
Wednesday.

Police officers said they determined the use of Tasers was
necessary when Tabatabainejad did not do as they asked.

According to a UCPD press release, Tabatabainejad went limp and
refused to exit as the officers attempted to escort him out. The
release also stated Tabatabainejad “encouraged library
patrons to join his resistance.” At this point, the officers
“deemed it necessary to use the Taser in a “drive
stun’ capacity.”

“He wasn’t cooperative; he wouldn’t identify
himself. He resisted the officers,” Young said.

Neither the video footage nor eyewitness accounts of the events
confirmed that Tabatabainejad encouraged resistance, and he
repeatedly told the officers he was not fighting and would
leave.

Tabatabainejad was walking with his backpack toward the door
when he was approached by two UCPD officers, one of whom grabbed
the student’s arm. In response, Tabatabainejad yelled at the
officers to “get off me.” Following this demand,
Tabatabainejad was stunned with a Taser.

UCPD and the UCLA administration would not comment on the
specifics of the incident as it is still under investigation.

In a statement released Wednesday, Interim Chancellor Norman
Abrams said investigators were reviewing the situation and the
officers’ actions.

“I can assure you that these reviews will be thorough,
vigorous and fair,” Abrams said.

The incident, which Zaragoza described as an example of
“police brutality,” left many students disturbed.

“I realize when looking at these kind of arrest tapes that
they don’t always show the full picture. … But that six
minutes that we can watch just seems like it’s a ridiculous
amount of force for someone being escorted because they forgot
their BruinCard,” said Ali Ghandour, a fourth-year
anthropology student.

“It certainly makes you wonder. If something as small as
forgetting your BruinCard can eventually lead to getting Tased
several times in front of the library, then maybe we should all be
a bit more worried about getting Tased,” he added when asked
if the incident made him more concerned about his personal
safety.

Edouard Tchertchian, a third-year mathematics student, said he
was concerned that the student was not offered any other means of
showing that he was a UCLA student.

With reports from Jennifer Mishory, Julia Erlandson and Lisa
Connolly, Bruin senior staff.

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