UCLA Taser incident
The UCLA Taser incident occurred on November 14, 2006, when Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a fourth-year University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student, was 'drive stunned' multiple times with a taser by campus police, for allegedly refusing to be escorted out of the College Library Instructional Computing Commons (CLICC) lab at Powell Library. The police had been called after Tabatabainejad had refused to provide his BruinCard (student ID) to a UCLA Community Service Officer during a routine check. Part of the incident was recorded on video by a camera phone.
Tabatabainejad, an Iranian-American is Baha'i, not Muslim. He said through his lawyers that he refused to identify himself because he believed himself a victim of racial profiling and that the tasing was an instance of police brutality.
Tabatabainejad filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the officers used excessive force and that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case was settled on May 15, 2009, with UCLA agreeing to pay $220,000 to Tabatabainejad.
At approximately 11:30 p.m. on November 14, 2006, Community Service Officers were conducting routine checks of students' BruinCard IDs in Powell Library. UCPD Assistant Chief of Police Jeff Young said the checks are a standard procedure in the 24-hour library after 11:00 p.m., when use of the library is restricted to staff, faculty and students.
When Tabatabainejad refused to produce university identification, he was asked to leave the premises. When Tabatabainejad failed to leave, UCPD officers were called to the scene, arriving approximately 10 minutes later. Following a confrontation, the officers used the Taser repeatedly, then told him to stand up.
Tabatabainejad was released from custody after being given a citation for obstruction/delay of a peace officer in the performance of duty. According to a press release issued by the UCPD, he was also issued a court date.
Terrence Duren, a former Marine and 18-year veteran of the UCLA Police Department, tasered Tabatabainejad multiple times. The 2001 UCLA Officer of the Year, Duren has been the subject of other use-of-force complaints and previously recommended for dismissal. In an October 2003 incident, Duren shot and wounded a homeless man in a University building, a case that went to trial. In May 1990, Duren was accused of using his nightstick to choke Kent S. Scott, who was idling in front of a fraternity late on a Saturday night. Scott sued and the university moved to have Duren removed from the force, but later gave him 90 days’ suspension. Duren has stated all of the past allegations against him regarding police misconduct and use of excessive force were investigated by the UCPD and proven false. (The homeless man was convicted of assaulting an officer.) Prior to joining the UCPD in the late 1980s, Duren was fired from the Long Beach Police Department due to "poor report-writing skills and geographical knowledge". Following the Tasering incident, Duren remained on active duty.
Also on the scene were Officers Alexis Bicomong, Kevin Kilgore, and Andrew Ikeda.
Video and eyewitness accounts
Part of the event is recorded in a six-minute cell phone video recorded by another student. The video has been widely disseminated online, and an edited version is available on the Daily Bruin site. Tabatabainejad is first heard (though not seen) repeatedly shouting "Don't touch me!" to the officers. Over the course of the video, he is stunned multiple times, while officers repeatedly order him to stand up and stop fighting, and threaten to administer further stuns. Tabatabainejad repeatedly states that he is not fighting and that he will leave the premises. He shouts that he has a medical condition, and shouts "Here's your PATRIOT Act! Here's your fucking abuse of power!" Witnesses say that when it was clear none of the other students were going to help him, Tabatabainejad said "Am I the only martyr?" According to one witness, "[Tabatabainejad was] no possible danger to any of the police. [He was] getting shocked and Tasered as he was handcuffed." Bystanders can be heard demanding the officers' names and badge numbers, and shouting for them to stop using the Taser on Tabatabainejad; numerous times these officers responded to demands of their badge numbers with phrases such as "do you want to get tased too?"
At one point, the officers told the crowd to stand back and threatened to tase anyone who approached too closely. A female student said that the officers threatened to tase her when she asked an officer for his name and badge number. According to an ACLU attorney, such a threat of force in response to a badge number request constitutes illegal assault. At 6:36 in the video, an officer tells a male student, "Get back over there or you’re going to get tased, too." The student, wearing a white t-shirt in the video, can be seen "using intense body language" and "talking heatedly and with raised [voice]" prior to being confronted. The officer first tells the student to "back up" before threatening tasing.
A press release issued by the UCPD claims that the officers "asked Tabatabainejad to leave the premises multiple times", and that Tabatabainejad refused to leave. Witnesses dispute this account, saying that Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack when an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, whereupon Tabatabainejad told the officer several times to let go.
Tabatabainejad has said through his lawyers that he was stunned five times, which is the count reported in the media immediately after the incident. The reported count was reduced to three after the release of the independent report.
The independent report clarifies:
It is our understanding that Tabatabainejad remembers being tased on at least four or five occasions. Officer 2 [Duren] notes at the conclusion of his initial report that "it’s possible that I may have tased Tabatabainejad a 4th time, but I am unsure at which time this may have occurred." Various media accounts following the incident reported the common assumption from several students that Tabatabainejad "was hit with a Taser five times when he did not leave." Accordingly, we cannot rule out the possibility that Tabatabainejad was tased more than the three discrete times that we have identified and confirmed. Still, we note that the internal recording system in the X26 Taser is considered by most law enforcement personnel to be reliable, and we have no reason to believe that its record of three Taser firings is inaccurate.
According to the UCPD press release from soon after the incident, "Tabatabainejad went limp and refused to exit as the officers attempted to escort him out." The release also states that 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".
In a statement released November 15, 2006, the day after the incident, Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams said:
Investigators are reviewing the incident and the officers' actions. The investigation and review will be thorough, vigorous and fair.
The safety of our campus community is of paramount importance to me. Routinely checking student identification after 11 p.m. at the campus library, which is open 24 hours, is a policy posted in the library that was enacted for the protection of our students. Compliance is critical for the safety and well-being of everyone.
On November 17, 2006, a press conference was held by Abrams and UCPD Chief Karl Ross, during which it was announced that the UCPD was planning to conduct an independent investigation into the incident led by Merrick Bobb, president of the Police Assessment Resource Center.
On November 18, 2006, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini condemned the incident, and urged punishment for those responsible.
On August 1, 2007, the results of the internal and independent investigations were released, nine months after the incident. The independent investigation found a number of policy violations, but the internal investigation found none. According to Abrams's statement, the difference in conclusions "is not unusual in the legal system. Reasonable people may disagree regarding the inferences to be drawn from the same set of facts, and the facts may differ if some witnesses testify in one investigation and not in the other." The internal investigation is confidential, but the full independent report is available for review.
On December 10, 2007, the UCLA Police Department released its new policy governing Taser use. The policy was developed from recommendations made in the independent report and with input from experts on Tasers and police use-of-force policy. School administrators and student leaders were asked to review and comment on the policy before it was finalized.
On November 17, 2006, 400 protesters, including UCLA faculty and staff, parents, community members, and UCLA students, gathered at Kerckhoff Hall to protest against the incident. This was followed by a march to the UCPD police station, where protesters were met by officers in riot gear.
The protest was organized by more than fifty student organizations to demand an independent investigation into the incident, and to demand the inclusion of students in the investigation.
Combiz Abdolrahimi, chairman of the National Iranian-American Council at UCLA, said that the chancellor should "appoint students who will be able to make sure the investigation is transparent". He also called for a temporary suspension of the officers.
On November 18, 2006, the University of California Students Association passed a "Police Brutality Resolution" regarding recent incidents at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA. A Daily Bruin editorial criticized the UCLA portion of the resolution, describing it as "full of inaccuracies".
On November 21, 2006, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council passed a resolution "opposing inappropriate force against students by university police".
Tabatabainejad's former lawyer, Stephen Yagman, announced on November 17, 2006 that he planned to file a lawsuit against university police alleging "brutal excessive force" and false arrest. According to Yagman, Tabatabainejad was asked to show his university identification card and did not do so because he believed he was being singled out for racial profiling. Yagman, who characterized the incident as an example of police brutality, claimed Tabatabainejad was the only person who was asked to show ID. A November 22, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that Yagman had said on November 21 that he was no longer representing Tabatabainejad.
On January 17, 2007, Tabatabainejad filed a federal lawsuit alleging the campus officers used excessive force, and that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He was seeking unspecified damages. According to the lawsuit, Tabatabainejad has bipolar disorder and informed the officers of his condition, but was treated in a way that constitutes discrimination under the ADA. His attorney, Paul Hoffman, said that a February 2008 court date had been set. On May 15, 2009, UCLA announced that the university would pay $220,000 to settle the civil rights lawsuit.
UCPD policy on Taser use
The UCLA PD policy in effect at the time of the incident calls the Taser a "less lethal device" and says that "although not absolutely prohibited, officers should give additional consideration to the unique circumstances involved prior to applying the Taser to ... Individuals who are handcuffed or otherwise restrained" (4C). According to the policy, the "Drive Stun" capacity is appropriate "to eliminate physical resistance from an arrestee in accomplishing an arrest or physical search" (6A) as well as "pain compliance against passive resistors" (6B).
Of the ten UC campus police departments, six have equipped officers with Tasers, but only UCLA had a flexible policy authorizing Tasers to be used as a pain-compliance tool against suspects who are passively resisting.
The UCLA PD released its new Taser policy on December 10, 2007. According to UCPD Chief Karl Ross, the new policy is considerably longer, includes specific definitions of appropriate and inappropriate use, and explicitly prohibits use against a "passive resister".
- Taser safety issues
- Taser International - Taser Manufacturer
- Braidwood Inquiry - Official Canadian inquiry into Tasers and similar devices
- University of Florida Taser incident
- Robert Dziekański Taser incident
- "Campus Police Use Stun Gun On UCLA Student", CBS2 Los Angeles, November 15, 2006.
- "Groups Call For Answers In UCLA Stun Gun Incident", the Associated Press at CBS2 Los Angeles, November 17, 2006.
- Sara Taylor (November 20, 2006) "Student to file suit in Taser incident", Daily Bruin.
- Sara Taylor (November 16, 2006) "Community responds to Taser use in Powell", Daily Bruin.
- Sara Taylor (November 17, 2006) "Student to file suit against UCPD" . Daily Bruin.
- A Bad Night at Powell Library: The Events of November 14, 2006 Merrick Bobb, Matthew Barge and Camelia Naguib (August 2007) Police Assessment Resource Center, Retrieved September 3, 2007.
- "Re: Powell Library Incident", memo released by the UCLA Police Department.
- Officer of the Year 2001, UCPD, UCLA, 2001
- Charles Proctor; Richard Winton (November 21, 2006) "Officer in Taser case identified" Los Angeles Times
- Sara Taylor (November 21, 2006) "Officer named in Taser incident", Daily Bruin.
- Lisa Connolly, Derek Lipkin and Saba Riazat (November 15, 2006) "Student shot with Taser by UCPD officers" i, Daily Bruin
- R. Winton (November 21, 2006) "UCLA orders outside probe of Taser arrest" The Chicago Tribune.
- Amanda Covarrubias; Stuart Silverstein (November 16, 2006) "A third incident, a new video" Los Angeles Times.
- "USAC opposes 'inappropriate force'" Kimberly Young and Jennifer Han, Daily Bruin, November 22, 2006.
- Laura Mecoy (November 18, 2006) "UCLA sets Taser probe". The Sacramento Bee.
- Sarah Kamshoshy (November 21, 2006) "Students Protest Taser Incident" The Daily Californian.
- Anthony Pesce (August 6, 2007) "Report examines use of force". Daily Bruin, Retrieved August 12, 2007.
- "Statement from UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams About Incident at Powell Library", November 15, 2006. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
- Richard Winton, Rong-Gong Lin II and Charles Proctor (November 18, 2006) "UCLA orders outside probe of Taser arrest" , Los Angeles Times.
- "Powell Incident Investigation" UCLA, November 17, 2006. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
- "Spokesman condemns beating of Iranian student by US police", Islamic Republic News Agency, November 18, 2006.
- "Statement Regarding Report of Independent Investigation of Taser Incident at UCLA", UCLA Office of Media Relations, August 1, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
- Anthony Pesce (December 10, 2007) "New Taser policy released" Daily Bruin, Retrieved January 30, 2008.
- Julia Erlandson and Anthony Pesce (November 17, 2006) "UCLA community gathers to protest Taser incident, campus violence", Daily Bruin.
- Foaad Khosmood, Doug Jorgesen, and Tina Park (November 17, 2006) "UCSA Police Brutality Resolution", .
- "Editorial: UCSA Taser resolution inaccurate, uninformed", Daily Bruin, November 29, 2006.
- Andrew Blankstein (January 17, 2007) "UCLA student sues over tasering" Los Angeles Times.
- Sara Taylor (January 18, 2007) "Student files lawsuit over Taser use", Daily Bruin. Retrieved June 3, 2007.
- "Taser plaintiff awarded $220,000", The Daily Bruin, May 18, 2009.
- "UCLA and former student settle Taser case", UCLA Newsroom, May 15, 2009.
- General Order 05-01, UCPD policy on Taser use, amended September 27, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
- Rong-Gong Lin II (November 22, 2006) "Taser use limited at most UC campuses" Los Angeles Times.
- Daily Bruin TV: Students march at UCLA to protest actions taken by police against student
- KNX Newsradio audio of the Nov. 17th Abrams press conference and an eyewitness account of the taser incident.
- YouTube video of the incident caught on a cameraphone
- Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of tasers