Wednesday, October 18

Student files lawsuit over Taser use


Two months after he was hit repeatedly with a Taser by
university police, Mostafa Tabatabainejad has filed a civil rights
lawsuit against UCLA and university police saying he
“suffered an unprovoked act of police brutality.”

On Nov. 14, 2006, the fourth-year Middle Eastern and North
African studies student was repeatedly hit with a Taser after he
did not promptly leave the CLICC Lab in Powell Library when he was
asked to do so.

Tabatabainejad, who was asked to leave when he did not produce
his BruinCard during a random security check shortly after 11:30
p.m., has sued UCLA, UCPD and the officers involved in the
incident, alleging that the officers employed excessive force,
illegally used their Tasers, and violated the Americans with
Disabilities Act, according to the court complaint.

The university did not comment specifically on the lawsuit
Wednesday, but acting Chancellor Norman Abrams released a statement
in which he urged that “everyone not rush to judge and let
investigations take their course,” referring to both an
independent and a UCPD investigation being conducted.

In the past the UCPD has said the officers determined it was
necessary to use the Taser to gain compliance when Tabatabainejad
did not cooperate and leave the library.

But the student and his attorney Paul Hoffman said the decision
to use force was unjustified and violated Tabatabainejad’s
constitutional rights.

“The real heart of the case is that there was no
justification in this situation for the officers to use any force
at all,” said Hoffman, the lead attorney on the case.
“And beyond that the use of Tasers in these situations is
excessive force.”

Tabatabainejad is suing for monetary damages, saying he has
“been emotionally upset by what happened every day since the
incident.”

“The shocks were very painful. … That night I was in
emotional turmoil,” he said in a statement. “I felt
utterly humiliated.”

Tabatabainejad is suing the officers at the scene, as well as
Chief of Police Karl Ross, for battery, excessive force and
negligence. He is also suing UCPD and the university for violating
his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Hoffman,
of the law firm Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman
LLP.

Hoffman said the case does not make any claim of racial
profiling.

According to the complaint, Tabatabainejad has bipolar disorder,
and so Hoffman said the officer’s treatment of the student
constitutes discrimination under the ADA.

“In this particular case, the officers were
informed,” Hoffman said, explaining that Officer Terrence
Duren, who used the Taser on Tabatabainejad, was told that
Tabatabainejad had bipolar disorder and responded by asking what
that had to do with standing up.

The case also alleges that the officers’ use of the Taser
was illegal.

UCPD’s Taser policy states that officers can use a Taser
to subdue a person who is “violent or physically resisting
… (or) potentially violent and physically resisting.” The
policy also does not prohibit the use of a Taser against a suspect
who has already been handcuffed.

But the case alleges that the use of a Taser on a passive
subject is illegal under the Constitution.

“You can’t use something like a Taser on somebody
that is passive,” Hoffman said. “You just can’t
use it to force someone to stand up.”

Over the last two months, the events of the incident have
remained somewhat fuzzy, as several accounts have emerged.

The court complaint describes the sequence of events in detail,
stating Tabatabainejad had gone to the library to work on a history
paper, and was concerned that he was being singled out because he
did not see the Community Service Officer ask any other students
and had never in his two years at UCLA been asked to show his
identification in the library.

A little while later Tabatabainejad had packed his belongings
and was heading toward the door when he was approached by the
officers, who blocked his path, told him to leave, and grabbed his
arm, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Duren hit Tabatabainejad with a Taser
“more than once after he was handcuffed” and
“drove the Taser gun into (Tabatabainejad’s) body in a
sadistic manner designed to inflict the maximum pain.”

When Tabatabainejad was approached by the officers, he went
limp, according to both the complaint and the UCPD statement.

“I went limp because … I was fearful the officers would
hurt me,” Tabatabainejad said.

But UCPD has consistently said the officers interpreted this
action as a sign of resistance and deemed it necessary to use a
Taser on Tabatabainejad because he did not stand up and walk
away.

Both the student and his lawyer said the most important goal of
the case is to change the way UCLA and UCPD operate, since they
believe the current policies show a lack of proper education and
conduct on the part of officers.

“I hope that by filing this lawsuit and focusing attention
on the way that campus police operate that there will be new
policies and practices at UCLA,” Tabatabainejad said in a
statement.

Hoffman said he expects the case to go to trial next fall.

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