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Report criticizes use of Taser on UCLA student

August 02, 2007|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

Even with use of force policies that are "unduly permissive," a UCLA police officer violated department rules when he repeatedly shocked a student with an electric Taser gun last fall during a confrontation captured on video and posted on the Internet, according to a report released Wednesday.

Los Angeles police accountability expert Merrick Bobb found that the decision to use the Taser on student Mostafa Tabatabainejad was "unnecessary, avoidable and excessive."

The findings are at odds with an earlier inquiry by UCLA Police Chief Karl Ross, who cleared Officer Terrence Duren and two colleagues of any wrongdoing.

Tabatabainejad, then a 23-year-old senior at UCLA, was in the campus library one night last November when a security guard asked him to provide identification during a routine check to make sure everyone in the library after 11 p.m. was a student or otherwise authorized to be there.

Tabatabainejad, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, refused repeated requests to provide his identification, explaining later that he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance.

In an ensuing confrontation with university police, Tabatabainejad was shocked at least three times with a Taser when he failed to get on his feet and walk out of the library as officers demanded.

Much of the encounter was captured by students with cellphones or digital cameras. Some of the footage was posted on www.YouTube.comand drew viewers from around the world. After student protests, a flood of angry e-mails and calls from concerned parents, then-Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams asked Bobb to conduct an independent review.

Bobb's 77-page report, titled "A Bad Night at Powell Library: The Events of November 14, 2006," was critical of Tabatabainejad and campus police.

The student has filed a federal lawsuit against UCLA, the police and several officers over the incident, contending that his civil rights were violated and that officers failed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The lawsuit states that Tabatabainejad has bipolar disorder.

"This story has no heroes," the introduction reads. Bobb faulted Tabatabainejad for failing to identify himself in the first place and the police for a response that was "substantially out of proportion with the provocation."

Bobb points out, for example, that Duren used the Taser in the "drive/stun" mode in which the device is pressed against a person's body as opposed to shooting a wire-bearing dart from a distance as police typically do.

Shooting the dart is intended to momentarily incapacitate a person so police can place handcuffs on him to take him into custody. The drive/stun mode does not incapacitate but simply causes great pain.

Bobb also found that "it appears more likely than not that Tabatabainejad was tased at least once while in handcuffs." However, Bobb and his coauthors found that it was unlikely that racial bias played any role in the incident.

Ross, the UCLA police chief, said he also hired outside investigators to examine the incident and -- based on their investigation -- found that Duren and two other officers had done nothing wrong.

The chief declined further comment, saying that he was barred by law from discussing the details of an internal investigation.

Beyond the specific incident involving Tabatabainejad, Bobb found that the UCLA Police Department's policies regarding use of force by officers were "inconsistent with the policies of other universities and leading police departments across the country, including the University of California campuses, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department."

The report added, "The UCLA PD policy stands alone in its legitimization of the Taser as a pain compliance device against passive resisters."

Bobb called for the university to, among other things, limit the use of Tasers to violent or aggressive people and to bar the use of the device on people who are passively resistant or handcuffed.

Ross said he agreed with those recommendations and was in the process of implementing them.

Abrams, who served his last day as acting chancellor Tuesday, praised Bobb's report for "providing a window to the general public into what happened that evening."

Bobb's report wasn't the only window, however. The footage on YouTube provided plenty of fodder in the court of public opinion.

The footage begins with Tabatabainejad screaming in pain, apparently in response to being shocked.

"Here's your Patriot Act. Here's your [expletive] abuse of power," he can be heard saying, his voice filled with anger.

"Stop fighting us," one of the officers interjects.

"I'm not fighting you," Tabatabainejad responds. "I got tased for no reason. I was leaving this Godforsaken place. You stopped me. You're abusing your power."

By this time, many people, apparently students, have gathered around and are watching the incident unfold. A male voice tells officers he wants their badge numbers. A female says plaintively, "It's so wrong."

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