Cops Taser UCLA Student


Nov. 17, 2006 — -- There is painful six-minute video that has suddenly spread all over the world via YouTube and "click here to watch" buttons on campus newspaper and TV station Web sites and on countless blogs.

It shows part of what happened in front of students who had been studying in the UCLA library when an Iranian-American student reportedly did not show any ID to campus police.

The excruciating video clip makes you want to shut your eyes as you hear sounds that echo those heard during the enflamed 1968 Vietnam-era demonstrations: Enraged students screaming at police; police yelling back and using strong force trying to get students under control.

"Here's your Patriot Act! ... your ... abuse of power!" shouts a student, using profanity after screaming out in anguished pain from the electric jolts of a police Taser.

"Stand up or you'll get Tasered again!" the police shout back.

"I said I would leave," the student moans loudly, as appalled fellow students crowd in, some demanding the badge numbers of the police.

It's not clear from the video whether the student is unable to stand up because of the initial Taser shock -- a nerve-stunning jolt that can immobilize muscles for a several seconds.

One difference from the anti-war demonstrations that reached a peak in 1968 -- this time the demonstrations are recorded by cell phone cameras and mini digital video cameras and then disseminated on the Internet:

To watch the video, click here.

"We are joining a group of students today to demand an independent investigation of this incident," Hussam Aylush, who heads the Southern California office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told ABC News.

Aylush told us his office has received "lot of e-mails and phone calls from students and parents, expressing a lot of anxiety and concern about what happened."

"Parents and the community have the right to expect that their children are going to be safe when they are on campus," he added.

Civil rights lawyer Stephen Yagman hired by the student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, says he will file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the UCLA police, accusing them of "brutal excessive force" and of singling him out because of his Middle Eastern appearance.

What actually happened at the library?

"I think we need to focus on the actions of the person, not just what you're hearing on the tape as far as the words," University of California Police Department Assistant Chief Jeff Young told ABC News affiliate KABC-TV.

"He had refused to identify himself; he had refused to leave the library, and he also -- when he was escorted by the officers at first -- he went limp, which is a form of resistance," Young said.

Some students saw it differently.

"Tabatabainejad was also stunned with the Taser when he was already handcuffed," complained third-year student Carlos Zaragoza to UCLA's campus paper, the Daily Bruin.

"You could just forcefully ask them to leave without having to Taser them... and dehumanizing them that way," student Virginia Myers told the ABC News affiliate.

"I think the UCPD went way too far," she added.

But if the Internet means such explosive video spreads instantly everywhere, it also means debate about it can follow right behind:

"In my opinion, he was asking for it," writes UCLA student columnist David Lazar, who concludes that when the student refused to present ID "during a routine check... it created an uproar, the fallout of which has graced airwaves and prompted headlines internationally."

"Whether or not the police used excessive force, there is no doubt that the student showed a blatant disregard of UCLA's regulations and police authority," he writes in UCLA's Daily Bruin, which like many college papers these days, is available to the world online.

Tasers didn't exist in 1968 -- police used batons, which Young told reporters are more forceful than Tasers.

"It's an electrical shock... it causes pain," Young said, explaining that the officers used the "drive stun" setting, which delivers a shock to a specific part of the body.

UCLA's student journalists quickly produced quotes from Southern California ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg.

"It's a real mistake to treat a Taser as some benign thing that painlessly brings people under control," the ACLU attorney said. "The Taser can be incredibly violent and result in death."

Tasers are increasingly controversial -- a powerful means of control for police that is apparently sometimes too powerful.

While it is often referred to as a "non-lethal" weapon, the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix reported a study that found that since 1999, 84 people in the United States and Canada have died after being shocked by a Taser.

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," according to the Los Angeles Times.

"University police are investigating..." says a statement released by UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams. "Investigators are reviewing the incident and the officers' actions. The investigation and review will be thorough and fair."

"I realize... these kind of arrest tapes don't always show the full picture," anthropology student Ali Ghandour told the campus newspaper. "But... it's a ridiculous amount of force for someone being escorted because they forgot their BruinCard."

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