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2006-11-20

UCLA Police Repeatedly Taser Handcuffed Student For Refusal to Show ID, University Orders Outside Probe

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Officials at the University of California in Los Angeles are launching an independent investigation into campus police officers’ repeated shocking of an Iranian-American student with a Taser stun gun. The student was handcuffed the entire time. The incident was captured on video has and sparked outrage across his campus and the country. [rush transcript included]

Officials at the University of California in Los Angeles are launching an independent investigation into campus police officers" repeated shocking of an Iranian-American student with a Taser stun gun.

The incident took place last Tuesday evening in a UCLA library filled with students studying for their midterm exams. The student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad–a 23-year old senior–was in the library’s computer lab. Campus police ordered him to leave after he failed to produce a student ID.

Police then handcuffed Mostafa and shocked him with a Taser gun at least five times. The entire incident was captured on video by another student and has been widely seen on local TV news and the website YouTube. In the video Mostafa can be heard screaming "I said I would leave" after police repeatedly shock him with the Taser gun.

Mostafa"s 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. He said Mostafa initially refused to show his ID because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. Mostafa is of Iranian descent but is a U.S. citizen by birth and a resident of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile more than 200 UCLA students marched to the university police station on Friday calling for an independent investigation and the suspension of the officers involved. Hours later, the university announced that a veteran LA law enforcement watchdog would head up the probe. Merrick Bobb served as staff attorney for the Christopher Commission, which was formed to examine allegations of excessive force in the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating in the early "90s.

We speak with the Southern California Council on American Islamic Relations which has also called for an independent investigation into the case.

  • Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California Council on American Islamic Relations.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we move on to our next story, officials at the University of California of Los Angeles are launching an independent investigation into campus police officers repeated shocking of an Iranian-American student with a taser-stun gun. The incident took place last Tuesday evening, in a UCLA library filled with students studying for their midterm exams.

The student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old senior, was in the library’s computer lab. A campus police ordered him to leave after he failed to produce a student ID. Police then handcuffed Mostafa and shocked him with a taser gun at least five times. The entire incident was captured on video by another student and has been widely seen on local news and the website youtube. In the video, Mostafa can be heard screaming "I said I would leave", after police repeatedly shock him with a taser gun.

POLICE: Stand up! Stop fighting! [inaudible yelling]

MOSTAFA: [inaudible screaming and crying] Here’s your Patriot Act! Here’s your ****ing abuse of power!

POLICE: Stop fighting this!

MOSTAFA: I’m not fighting you! I said I would leave! I said I would leave!

[inaudible shouting]

UNKNOWN VOICE: I want your badge numbers.

MOSTAFA: I got tased for no reason. I said I would leave this god forsaken place. You shocked me. You’re abusing your power. Here’s your justice at [inaudible] American University.

POLICE: Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! Stand up!

UNKNOWN VOICE: You just shocked him!

POLICE: Stand up! Get up! Get Up!

UNKNOWN VOICE: Don’t do that!

POLICE: Get up. Stand up. Get Up, or you’ll get tased again.

UNKNOWN VOICE: Don’t! Don’t do that!

POLICE: Stand up! Get up! Get up!

MOSTAFA: [inaudible: Screaming and Crying]

POLICE: [Police yelling.]

MOSTAFA: I’ll leave. I said I would leave.

POLICE: Stand up!

AMY GOODMAN: Mostafa was stunned at least five times. That video you can see on our website at democracynow.org for our radio listeners. Mostafa’s attorney, Steven Yagman, said he plans to file a Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit, accusing the UCLA police of a brutal excessive force, as well as false arrest. He said Mostafa initially refused to show his ID because he thought he was being singled out because of his middle eastern appearance. Mostafa’s of Iranian descent, but a US Citizen by birth and a resident of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, more than 200 UCLA students marched to the University police station Friday, calling for an independent investigation and the suspension of the officers involved. Hours later, the University announced a veteran LA Law enforcement watchdog would head up the probe. Merrick Bob served as Staff Attorney for the Christopher Commission, which was formed to examine allegations of excessive force in the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating in the early 90’s.

Hussam Ayloush joins us now on the telephone. He’s Executive Director of the Southern California Council on American Islamic Relations, which has also called for an independent investigation. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what has developed from this point as of Tuesday, when the attack took place?

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: We first received the report of the attack from various students on campus. You can just look at the — you know, we’re getting —- have the picture by listening today and the same thing with the listeners. It’s only when you watch the video that you feel how—- the full extent of how disturbing the imagery is.

We were extremely disturbed and we immediately called for an independent investigation, because we felt that such a disturbing incident requires an impartial review and probe. And since then, initially, the University announced an internal review, that would be conducted by their own University of California Police Department. But I think, after the actions taken by the students on campus, led by the Muslim Student Association there and many supporting groups from Latino groups to African-American groups and various social justice groups there, I think the University realized how serious it is. I could say —- I could say the whole community is shaken by it, not only the student body, but even—-even the parents.

The whole community, because we as parents and the community sends their children to the University thinking it’s a safe place. This is not a way to treat a student.

I mean, I will tell you how—what I heard from parents. People are saying yes, maybe Mostafa was a little bit obnoxious. Maybe he wasn’t too compliant. We don’t have the whole picture actually, but based on what we heard from news report, it seems yeah, maybe initially he was asked for an ID and he didn’t show the ID. But he never, never showed any violence. He was never threatening, to any of the officers or anybody else. So, if the goal was to detain him, to hold him, there were enough officers at that time to hold him and handcuff him. But there was no need to use the taser on him.

AMY GOODMAN: Looking at an article that, from ABC news, quoting the University of California Police Department Assistant Chief, Jeff Young, telling the ABC news affiliate KABC TV,

I think we need to focus on the actions of the person, not just what you’re hearing on the tape. He’s — he refused to identify himself. He had refused to leave the library and also when he was escorted by the police officers at first, he went limp, which is a form of resistance

young said. Hussan Ayloush, your response?

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: Well, I mean, again, we only have the images from the video to determine what really happened. Plus the eyewitness’ account. And it’s too early to make a judgment, a final complete, conclusion on what happened; that’s why we demand the investigation. But just by, just judging by what we see, we see someone who’s resisting, but according to law enforcement, because I do work with law enforcement people, and all of them said this seems to be, because there’s a differentiation between resistance. There’s something called passive resistance, which is going limp, like what Mostafa was doing; and there’s active resistance, where you start pushing around and trying to harm somebody else.

You know, according to the policy of all police department that I work with, including the sheriff’s departments also, a taser should not be used when the person is involved in passive resistance. What they say, the policy is, tasers should be used against persons who are actively resistancing or to prevent those individuals from harming themselves or others. In this case, it is very, very clear at least from the video itself, that Mostafa was involved in neither. He wasn’t actively resisting, he was passively resisting, and never threatening anybody, nor seemed to be threatening anybody.

So now, according to them, it seems like the policy — I mean, that’s what the gentleman have been saying in the media, is that the policy for the UC Police Department actually is more flexible than the rest of the police departments in the area. And that is, it allows them to use the tasers technique. Basically, pain-inducing weapons against students or against individuals even if there’s — if it’s not active resistance. Which is extremely concerning because that means they are allowed to use brutality against students on campus at a time when the laws of police departments dealing with real criminals outside, has more restrictive policies. So, if that is true, if that is the case, then there’s certainly a need and demand to change that policy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the tasering of Mostafa Tabatabainejad, an Iranian-American student at UCLA last Tuesday. And we’re talking to Hussan Ayloush, the Executive Director of Southern California CAIR, that’s the Coucil on American Islamic Relations.

Four of UCLA’s nearly 60 full-time police officers recently won "taser awards" given by the manufacturers of the electronic shock device to law enforcement officers "who save a life in the line of duty through extraordinary use of the taser." This is according to the Los Angeles times. I want to ask one more question and talk to you about CNN’s Glenn Beck’s comments when he was interviewing the first Muslim Member of Congress.

According to a study published in the Lanset Medical Journal in 2001, a charge of three to five seconds of a taser gun can result in immobilization for five to 15 minutes. Which would mean that Mostafa could have been physically unable to stand when the officers demanded that he do so. The incident follows the recent announcement that four of the campus police near—won the so-called taser awards as I said before a break from the manufacturer. This is last question on this issue before we turn to Glenn Beck, Hussan. But, have you talked to Mostafa?

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: Not personally I haven’t done so. But I know people on the campus have done so. People we’ve worked with from the Muslim Students Association and others. And I know currently, he’s not personally making any comments anymore, since he has hired an attorney. What I want to add is on the issue of the taser itself very quickly. I think there was a recent study by the ACLU that shows that since 1999, 148 people have died as a result of the use of taser. So that really brings us to the really larger picture in the whole issue and that is, the use of such brutal tactics in the attempt to arrest people.

I think it also leads to the underlying issue and that is, the culture of violence that is sweeping our nation and the world today. Where we as individuals become so desensitized to the pain and suffering of other people. And we witness this maybe in the arrests of individuals, but also we see it in what happens in Abu Ghraibs and in the Guantanamo Bays prisons. In the way — the police brutality cases we hear, whether it’s against Iraqi prisoners, against Afghani prisoners, or even against our own American detainees. And I think this should maybe be a wake-up call for us and we need to change this cultural violence that is taking over.

AMY GOODMAN: Hussam Ayloush, I wanted to turn to a second issue that sparked contro—controversy earlier this month. On a November 14th edition of the CNN Headlines News Program, Host Glenn Beck interviewed Keith Ellison, the Minneapolis Congressman who will become the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. He was elected of course November 7th, and this is an excerpt of the interview that Glenn Beck did with him.

GLENN BECK: I, I will tell you. May I? May we have five minutes here where we’re just politically incorrect and I play the cards face up on the table?

KEITH ELLISON: Go there.

GLENN BECK: Ok. No offense, and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I’ve been to mosques. I really don’t believe that Islam is a religion of evil. I think it’s been hijacked, quite frankly. With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying let’s cut and run and I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies and I don’t — I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel and I think a lot of Americans are feeling that way.

KEITH ELLISON: Well, let me tell you the people of the 5th Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There’s no one who is more patriotic than I am. And so, I don’t need to prove, to prove my patriotic stripes—

GLENN BECK: I understand that, and I’m not—.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the newly-elected Congress Member from Minneapolis, Keith Ellison, first Muslim to be elected to Congress in the United States, being interviewed by CNN’s Glenn Beck. Hussam Ayloush, your response.

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: Well, I would say that’s why he won the election for Congress, because he’s a diplomat. Probably, because he could hold his temper. If it was for me, I would have said, I am extremely offended. What Mr. Beck did, it is nothing short of total bigotry. To question the patriotism of an American Citizen who happens to be Muslim, because he’s questioning the issues of Iraq, the failed immoral policies of this administration is nothing short of pure racism and bigotry. And if this was — if this was tried on a Jewish person, or a Black person, or any other person, he would not have to continue his show after that.

Unfortunately, we live at a time where it is the only acceptable bigotry today, open bigotry, is the one against Muslims. No one has the right to question the patriotism of American Muslims. Someone who is born and raised in this country such as a patriot, a true patriot such as Keith Ellison, and it’s a shameful thing. Because if it’s ignorance on the part of Beck, then that is shameful, but if it’s something that’s intentional it is even more painful to it. And it seems this is something that’s going on for a while. This is not the first time Mr. Beck makes anti-Muslim comments. It seems that Mr. Beck is CNN’s response to losing the bigoted segment of its viewers to FOX and they’re trying to win it back and the way to do it is bringing people like him to come and make — to use scare tactics, Islam-aphobic scare tactics.

AMY GOODMAN: Will CAIR be issuing a letter of protest to CNN?

HUSSAN AYLOUSH: Actually we are looking into it. This was in our meeting. This was sent to our members when it happened. But also we are looking at a long, long list of anti-Muslim comments made almost on a daily basis on his show. Mr. Beck seems to enjoy focusing on the fringe element in the—within the Muslim extremist segment, forgetting about the existence of extremists in all religions and all groups. Focusing on some — the media shock or the image — the shocking image of extremists in a way to create the scare and fear of Muslims in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Hussam Ayloush, I want to thank you for being with us, Executive Director of the Southern Californian Council of American Islamic Relations.

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