Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NewU UCLA Tasering Roundup

Link to news article

UC Irvine Community Reacts to UCLA Taser Incident
POLICE: Students comment on both sides of the issue concerning a UCLA student who was Tasered by UCPD.
By Stella Cho
Staff Writer

On Nov. 14 around 11:30 p.m. in the Powell Library at UC Los Angeles, fourth-year double major in philosophy and Middle Eastern and North African studies Mostafa Tabatabainejad was Tasered up to five times by UC police for failing to show his Bruin ID card to community service officers and refusing to leave a computer lab.

Tabatabainejad, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, hired civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman on Nov. 17 and filed a lawsuit against the UC Police Department for “brutal excessive force” and false arrest.

According to a Nov. 22 article in The Los Angeles Times, Yagman said on Nov. 21 that he was no longer representing Tabatabainejad. The status of the lawsuit is uncertain.

Tabatabainejad did not comply when repeatedly asked to leave the premises by CSOs performing routine ID checks. Yagman explained that his client did not leave because he felt that he was being singled out through racial profiling. The library, open 24 hours, permits only students, faculty and staff members after 11 p.m. for security purposes. When Tabatabainejad remained in the library, CSOs left and returned with four UCPD officers, one of whom used a Taser on Tabatabainejad.

The incident was recorded as a six-minute video on a student’s cell phone and released on CBS News and YouTube.

In the grainy video, Tabatabainejad is shown being Tasered as he yells, “Here’s your PATRIOT Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!” Police repeatedly tell him to “stand up” or “get up.”

“I got Tased for no reason,” Tabatabainejad says after he is first Tasered. “I was leaving this God-forsaken place.

Students from across the nation were outraged by the video, spawning a Facebook group called “UCLA’s UCPD Brutality” which has more than 9,000 members including approximately 150 UC Irvine students.”

“I believe what the police did … constitutes torture, since they were inflicting massive amounts of pain on a non-violent subject to force his compliance rather than just walk out of the building with him,” said Daniel Byers, fourth-year double major in music and ethnomusicology. “While the student was not cooperating with the officers, nothing he did gave the officers reason to torture him. The officers should be discharged from the force and criminal charges should be placed against them.”

“Police are well-trained to deal with people who won’t remove themselves from buildings – such as protestors – and should not have to resort to using a Taser,” said Patrick Bruso, fourth-year double major in philosophy and political science. “A Taser should only be used when someone is threatening the police with bodily harm.”

Others feel that the police officers’ actions were justified. Some such students formed another Facebook group, “The UCLA Student That Got Tasered by UCPD Deserved It.” This group is much smaller, with about 200 members, 20 of whom are UCI students.

“For [Tabatabainejad] to say it wasn’t fair is considered ridiculous,” said fourth-year double major in mechanical and aerospace engineering Christine Lee. “You got caught breaking the rule, so leave.”

“In the video, he was resisting arrest and yelling out obscenities,” said third-year biomedical engineering major Chris Clawson. “Therefore, he deserved the shocks he received. He sure had enough strength to scream out the way he did; he could get up easily.”

According to UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey, a Taser “specifically affects nervous system which controls the muscles, which ceases resistance. It is used for a short amount of time to incapacitate someone for about 10 seconds. Almost all physical capabilities come back, and in most cases they’re in control about 20 seconds later.”

UCLA is the only UC campus that allows the use of Tasers on people passively resisting arrest.

UC San Diego officers used a Taser to subdue a man who pulled a switchblade on a woman in a campus parking lot.

UC Davis police used a Taser on a man who, agitated by a recent break-up with his girlfriend, fired at officers with a semiautomatic weapon.

UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz police do not use Tasers at all, and while UC Barbara officers do not carry them, city police use Tasers to help out campus officers when they must subdue someone.

Henisey said that UCIPD “uses a Taser on a violent or potentially violent individual.”

According to The Daily Bruin, UCPD Assistant Chief of Police Jeff Young said that there was no way for the police to know if Tabatabainejad was a student or if he was armed.

“The advantage of a Taser gun is that there are no permanent injuries such as other alternatives like pepper spray [which] affects people for a longer period of time,” Henisey said. “Cardiac arrests [involved with Tasers] are due to the involvement of phencyclidine, cocaine and methamphetamines, which increase the heart rate.”

“The incident at UCLA seemed unfortunate, but I don’t have enough information to a make a judgment,” said Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez, who watched the video online. “Anyone who has any concern regarding our campus police, the first person I would acknowledge is our Police Chief Paul Henisey [because] he takes complete responsibility in assuring that our police are professionals and providing security and safety. It’s a very unfortunate situation and I hope it’s resolved in a quick fashion.”

Link to editorial (click to also view the NewU's cartoon on the incident)

UCLA Student Reveals Martyr Complex
By Editorial Board

On Nov. 14 at UC Los Angeles’ Powell Library, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a fourth-year philosophy and Middle Eastern and North African studies major of Iranian descent, was stunned five times with a Taser by UC police for not displaying proper identification when asked for it.

Due in large part to video captured by another student on a cell phone camera, the incident has garnered both local and worldwide media attention via YouTube.

The general opinion among students seems to be that the Tasering was excessive—a view with which we agree. According to the Los Angeles Times, Terrence Duren, the officer who Tasered Tabatabainejad, has been involved with the university’s police department for 18 years. Duren was named officer of the year in 2001, but has been involved in other questionable incidents, including shooting a homeless man.

However, whether or not the police acted excessively, no small part of the blame lies with Tabatabainejad for needlessly escalating the situation to violence.

Unfortunately, no one thought to record Tabatabainejad’s initial confrontation with community service officers, so all we have is footage of Tabatabainejad being stunned, dragged and yelling a few arbitrary accusations. It’s nearly impossible to judge the appropriateness of this response without seeing what came before.

That Tabatabainejad refused to show his identification when asked for it – a routine request of late-night library patrons – has not been disputed. After community service officers left the defiant Tabatabainejad to summon the UC Police Department, Tabatabainejad reportedly began to head toward the library’s exit, though it is unclear whether Tabatabainejad began to exit the building of his own accord after speaking with the CSOs or whether he only began to flee after seeing UCPD officers.

Tabatabainejad was grabbed by the arm by police, after which he began shouting, “Don’t touch me!” Police also report that he “went limp and refused to exit as the officers attempted to escort him out” and that he “encouraged library patrons to join his resistance.” While being Tasered, Tabatabainejad yelled, “Here’s your PATRIOT Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!” He also reportedly asked other students, “Am I the only martyr?”

Of course, Tabatabainejad’s passivity didn’t last very long after the actual incident—he almost immediately decided to sue police, perhaps ushering in a trend of students unwisely mouthing off to police in hopes of financial gain.

Stephen Yagman, Tabatabainejad’s attorney, claims that his client was being racially profiled when he was asked for his identification—which is why he failed to procure it. Tabatabainejad evidently suffers from some sort of martyr complex; he went into the situation looking to create a scene—which is exactly what he got.

The UCPD’s policy on Tasering allows for use of the “Drive Stun” capacity of the Taser as “pain compliance against passive resistors.” Other UC schools, including UC Irvine, only allow use of such a weapon against suspects who pose a threat to police. Whether or not this policy is just, it is clear that UCPD officers acted within their rights against Tabatabainejad as a passive resistor.

Tabatabainejad needs to choose his battles more carefully. Though Iranians may be victims of racial profiling, Tabatabainejad seems to be of the mindset that any bad thing that happens to him is a result of racial prejudice. Why else would something as innocuous as a request to see a library card be considered as such?

Taking a stand against the police is admirable in certain circumstances, but it has consequences. Tabatabainejad defied police for a stupid reason and he dealt with the consequences.

Link to commentary by Anam Siddiq

Much Still Unknown About UCLA Tasering
By Anam Siddiq

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you’ve heard about the UC Los Angeles student Mostafa Tabatabainejad, who was shot with a Taser by UCLA police on Nov. 14. Chances are that you have also seen the famous video of the incident taken with a student’s camera phone.

You may have even gone one step further and left a comment about the video stating your opinion. If you did, you joined the hundreds of students participating in fierce debates online, mainly through popular Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook. The former site, for the most part, contained viewpoints directly related to the video’s content, while the latter included several groups dedicated to arguing the issue of the police’s actions in general.

Though reading through all the comments on either of these Web sites is next to impossible, I was able to read enough to determine what these students were most concerned about.

Upon viewing the video for the first time, I would assume that anybody would be at least slightly alarmed by the effect of the Taser on the man. My first reaction was questioning why this handcuffed, defenseless and apparently non-violent student was being treated so harshly.

Several other students seemed to have the same question. Many wondered why four policemen could not simply drag out “skinny” Tabatabainejad, instead of resorting to such “brutal measures.”

Even a police officer stated on a Web site that the UCLA police officers’ actions were completely uncalled for, and physical contact or force should not have been used if the student was passively resisting.

Other students argued the effects of the multiple shocks delivered and whether or not Tabatabainejad would have been able to physically comply with the officers’ consistent demands to stand. Some even went so far as to list the precise number of seconds between each shock and compare it to the amount of time it takes for one to recover after being Tasered.

No one but Tabatabainejad knows whether or not he could have easily obeyed the officers’ orders after being shocked, but I agree the officers should not have used the Taser on him that many times, or at all for that matter.

Not only did these policemen use the Taser on Tabatabainejad, but according to several witnesses, they threatened to use it on students in the crowd who requested the officers’ badge numbers. Even if what was done to Tabatabainejad was acceptable because of his resistance, there is no law that gives the police the right to threaten innocent bystanders, especially since they were simply requesting information.

Some have said that the questioning was preventing the officers from enforcing the law against Tabatabainejad. However, one student said that he had asked for the number after Tabatabainejad had been taken away, and was still threatened.

The UC Police Department’s response to the incident primarily said that Tabatabainejad was encouraging other students to join in his resistance, although many argue that that wasn’t true, according to what they saw in the video. In order to avoid a larger crowd, the statement says it was necessary to get Tabatabainejad out of the building. However, using a Taser, which is bound to elicit painful screams, is not the most subtle way of removing a person from the area.

According to Tabatabainejad’s lawyer in a video interview on YouTube, Tabatabainejad believed himself to be a victim of racial profiling, which is why he resisted when the officers grabbed his arm. The Iranian student felt he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. From what I have read, most people seem uncomfortable playing the race card, and prefer to focus more on what was done to this particular student rather than why.

Tabatabainejad’s actions and words were a little extreme, and may have aggravated the situation; he could have made his opinions clear in another way. However, race should not be completely set aside as a possible factor because, believe it or not, racism and prejudice still exist, a fact most recently displayed by Michael Richards’ infamous racial outburst.

Of course, there are several different issues and viewpoints that exist, half of which could never be completely settled by simply viewing the video, which we can all agree is not the most professional bit of camerawork and does not cover the entire incident.

However, several visitors to the sites which debate these topics seem certain that their opinions are ultimately correct. Some have even gone so far to show their support for the victim that they have created T-shirts with Tabatabainejad’s now well-known declaration: “Here’s your PATRIOT Act! Here’s your fucking abuse of power!” And although I may not agree with the police’s actions, I don’t think I will be buying one of these shirts, either.

Anam Siddiq is a first-year literary journalism major.

Link to Reut Cohen's op-ed piece
UCLAPD Acted Harshly
By Reut R. Cohen

Police officers repeatedly shocked a UCLA student with a Taser after he purportedly refused to leave a campus library computer lab. The student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, 23, was using the Powell Library computer lab at 11:30 p.m. and refused to show identification to a campus security officer.

UCLA policy, for public safety reasons, requires that students using library amenities show a valid student ID after 11 p.m. Eyewitnesses and a video shot from a camera phone confirm that Tabatabainejad and the police struggled for a few minutes, but that the student was Tasered multiple times after he had declared that he would leave the library.

Tabatabainejad apparently did not provide campus police with a student ID and did not leave the library after a campus police officer asked. The officer left and returned with more campus police who then proceeded to ask the student to leave “multiple times,” according to a statement by the UC Police Department.

“He continued to refuse,” said an official with the UCPD. “As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building.”

“Tabatabainejad encouraged library patrons to join his resistance,” police said. “The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser.”

The Taser was set in “drive stun” mode, which immobilizes the local area of the body where it hits, not the entire body.

Some witnesses said that Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack when extra campus police arrived. When an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, according to witnesses, Tabatabainejad told the officer to let go, yelling “Get off me!” several times.

A lot has been said about whether or not the police acted appropriately in this case. While I do not want to judge these things precipitately, I believe that much is working against UCPD in this case, and for good reason.

In the video, for example, police officers repeatedly order Tabatabainejad to stand up. It is also clear that every time the student is ready to get up and shouts that he will leave, the officer Tasers him again.

Tabatabainejad, unfortunately, was not helping his case by shouting things like, “Am I the only martyr?” and condemning the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act while cursing at officers. Some of the eyewitnesses, moreover, acted a bit foolishly by trying to come between the student and police.

Following the incident, it was confirmed that Terrence Duren, the UCLA police officer who Tasered the student, had also shot a homeless man at a campus study hall room three years ago and was connected with an alleged assault on Fraternity Row. The officer has served with the UCPD for 18 years.

It is safe to say that UCLA police demonstrated tremendous incompetence when dealing with the Iranian student. Tasering a student and then threatening to Taser more students who scream “leave him alone” seems a bit much. Duren should have been released from duty long ago.

Despite the police department’s ineptitude in dealing with the student, Tabatabainejad should not have cursed at the police and should have simply left the library when he could not provide valid ID.

Asking for ID has little to do with race. This is a normal procedure at UCLA because – newsflash – Westwood is not the safest of neighborhoods. I’ve used the library facilities at UCLA and have lost track of time. When asked for ID after 11:00 p.m., I have apologized and left. I wouldn’t want to cause any controversy and be Tasered by police.

Some of the reactions of students at UCLA and other universities, moreover, have been extremely unwarranted, rash and illogical. Some students have been reporting to news agencies and Web sites that eyewitnesses not only tried to help the student, but wanted to overpower the police. I hate to break it to you, but using brute force with a police office just might result in warranted Tasering and arrests.

Reut R. Cohen is a third-year English major. She can be reached at rrcohen@uci.edu.

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