California: UCLA student victim of police brutality

On November 14, police at the University of California’s Los Angeles (UCLA) campus brutally assaulted a student with a Taser stun gun as he was leaving the library.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old senior, was working in the library computer lab until shortly after 11 PM, when he was asked by a security officer to produce his university identification card for inspection.

According to Tabatabainejad, he was targeted by library officials and campus police because of his ethnicity—he is a US citizen of Iranian descent. He has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging false arrest and the use of “brutal excessive force.”

According to eyewitnesses, Tabatabainejad was preparing to leave the library when he was physically detained by University of California Police Department (UCPD) officers who had been called by the security officer. When he responded with passive resistance, again because he says he was unfairly targeted, police shocked him several times in front of dozens of horrified fellow students.

The Taser gun was used in its “drive stun” mode. The officer first removed the cartridge, which fires two darts attached to wires, and then pressed the exposed electrodes directly into Tabatabainejad’s flesh over and over for what police euphemistically term “pain compliance.” In this mode, the Taser functions something like a cattle prod, whereas in its full mode it completely paralyzes the person targeted.

In a video of the incident captured with a cell phone camera (which can be found here), Tabatabainejad can be heard repeatedly shouting, “Get off me!” and screaming in pain as he was shocked. Witnesses reported that Tabatabainejad told the police he had a medical condition as they threatened him with their Tasers.

After the first Taser shock, Tabatabainejad fell to the floor shrieking in pain, where he was handcuffed and manhandled. He shouted out in protest, “This is your Patriot Act. This is your f—ing abuse of power.” Tabatabainejad can be heard in the video insisting that he was trying to leave, while the police shouted at him to stand up.

According to his lawyer, Tabatabainejad tried to “get the beating, the use of brutal force, to stop by shouting and causing people to watch. Generally, police don’t want to do their dirties in front of a lot of witnesses.” The police responded by shocking him repeatedly.

As Tabatabainejad was dragged out of the room by two officers, he screamed, “I’m not fighting you! I said I would leave!” He was pulled into the foyer of the library, where he fell down the stairs after being shocked again.

At this point, the protestations of the gathering crowd of students grew more strident and a throng of security personnel formed a circle around Tabatabainejad. He was shocked twice more before being dragged out of the building.

In the video, several students can be seen demanding badge numbers of the police. One officer can be heard telling a student, “Back over there, because I said so. Back over there or you’re gonna get tased, too.” When students approached the police outside the library for information, according to witnesses, they were told to go back inside and threatened with the Taser guns again.

Tabatabainejad was charged with resisting/obstructing a police officer, but was released early the next morning with a citation. The official UCPD report on the incident deliberately omits details on the number of officers involved in his arrest, the number of times Tabatabainejad was shocked, and when or whether Tabatabainejad was even read his rights.

The police version is an outrageous distortion of documented events: “Tabatabainejab [sic] encouraged library patrons to join his resistance. A crowd gathering around the officers and Tabatebainejad’s [sic] continued resistance made it urgent to remove Tabatabainejad from the area. The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser in a ‘drive stun’ capacity.”

After the arrest, students in the library discussed how best to manage the situation and began contacting media outlets and disseminating the video on the Internet. UCLA students have expressed overwhelming indignation and disgust over the police brutality. A protest on Friday attracted several hundred people, with some holding signs reading, “I am a student, don’t Taser me.” Students are also circulating a petition demanding a permanent ban on the use of Taser guns by the UCPD.

The campus administration has responded to the protests by agreeing to an independent investigation of the incident. However, the university insisted that students should “withhold judgment” about what is clearly an outrageous incident of brutality and intimidation. Student groups are demanding that Tasers be prohibited from use on campus.

This occurrence happened mere days after the release of a video tape showing LAPD officers repeatedly punching a 24-year-old man in the face while he was helpless and restrained on the ground, as well as another video depicting LAPD officers pepper-spraying a handcuffed man on the Venice Boardwalk.

While incidents of police abuse are nothing new, the number of abuses involving Taser weapons is rising sharply. Amnesty International released a report in March stating that since its introduction in 2001, 152 deaths have followed the use of the latest Taser weapons by police in the US. There have been several dozen since that time, bringing the total to around 200. Most of these deaths involved unarmed subjects, many of whom received multiple shocks while already restrained.

The Los Angeles Times reported November 17 that several UCPD officers had just won so-called Taser Awards, granted by the Taser company to police who “save a life in the line of duty through extraordinary use of the Taser.” According to the Times, the officers had been recognized for tasing a patient at the university psychiatric hospital who had allegedly threatened staff with a pair of scissors.