The UCLA student stunned with a Taser by a campus police officer has hired a high-profile civil rights lawyer who plans to file a brutality lawsuit.
The videotaped incident, which occurred after the student refused requests to show his ID card to campus officers, triggered widespread debate on and off campus Thursday about whether use of the Taser was warranted. It was the third in a recent series of local incidents captured on video that raise questions about arrest tactics.
Attorney Stephen Yagman said he plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the UCLA police of "brutal excessive force," as well as false arrest. The lawyer also provided the first public account of the Tuesday night incident at UCLA's Powell Library from the student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old senior.
He said that Tabatabainejad, when asked for his ID after 11 p.m. Tuesday, declined because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. Yagman said Tabatabainejad is of Iranian descent but is a U.S.-born resident of Los Angeles.
The lawyer said Tabatabainejad eventually decided to leave the library but when an officer refused the student's request to take his hand off him, the student fell limp to the floor, again to avoid participating in what he considered a case of racial profiling. After police started firing the Taser, 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."
He said Tabatabainejad was hit by the Taser five times and suffered "moderate to severe contusions" on his right side.
UCLA officials declined to respond directly to Yagman's statements, saying they still were conducting their internal investigation of the incident.
The university said earlier, however, that Tabatabainejad was asked for his ID as part of a routine nightly procedure to make sure that everyone using the library after 11 p.m. is a student or otherwise authorized to be there. Campus officials have said the long-standing policy was adopted to ensure students' safety.
UCLA also said that Tabatabainejad refused repeated requests by a community service officer and regular campus police to provide identification or to leave. UCLA said the police decided to use the Taser to incapacitate Tabatabainejad only after the student urged other library patrons to join his resistance.
Some witnesses disputed that account, saying that when campus police arrived, Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door.
In a prepared statement released late Thursday, UCLA's interim chancellor, Norman Abrams, urged the public to "withhold judgment" while the campus police department investigates. "I, too, have watched the videos, and I do not believe that one can make a fair judgment regarding the matter from the videos alone. I am encouraged that a number of witnesses have come forward and are participating in the investigation."
Meanwhile, student activists were organizing a midday rally today to protest the incident, and the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an independent investigation.
The incident follows the recent announcement that four of the campus police department's nearly 60 full-time sworn officers had won so-called Taser Awards granted by the manufacturer of the device to "law enforcement officers who save a life in the line of duty through extraordinary use of the Taser." The award stemmed from an incident in which officers subdued a patient who allegedly threatened staff at the campus' Neuropsychiatric Hospital with metal scissors.
Jeff Young, assistant police chief, declined to indicate whether any of the honored officers were among the several involved in Tuesday's incident.