The Compton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is calling for a federal investigation into the beating of a disabled man by Los Angeles sheriff's deputies. The incident caused the man to suffer permanent injuries, according to the civil rights organization.
According to the president of the NAACP Compton's branch, the 29-year-old mentally disabled man "was harassed and then beaten for 25 minutes by L.A. sheriff officers while he was handcuffed…" She also stated that he sustained "massive permanent injuries" as a result of the beating, and that this incident was apparently uncalled for and "a clear violation of his civil rights." Among the injuries inflicted: a fractured eye socket, other facial fractures and seven broken ribs.
The incident occurred on July 14 at about 9:30pm in Enterprise Park, which is located in the 13000 block of Clovis Avenue in Compton. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, deputies confronted the man where he sat on a park bench after smelling what appeared to be marijuana in the immediate vicinity. When he was confronted by deputies and was being detained, he became "verbally confrontational and subsequently attempted to punch one of the deputies," said a representative of the sheriff's department. The man then sustained several injuries in the resulting struggle and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
After receiving medical treatment, the man was taken to the Compton Station of the sheriff's department and was booked on suspicion of felony obstruction/resisting an executive officer and misdemeanor marijuana possession. He was released on July 17 after posting bond.
The sheriff's department has stated that the incident is under investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, and that investigators will be looking into such details as to how many deputies were involved, whether shots were fired and other circumstances surrounding the struggle.
The man's sister told NBC4 that her brother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that affects his ability to communicate. She said he does not always respond when spoken to.
This incident brings about an important issue regarding civil rights and police conduct. Mentally and physically disabled persons may be at a disadvantage when dealing with law enforcement, particularly if deputies or officers dealing with the person are not familiar with their disability or how to address it. A deaf person, for example, may not respond to verbal commands or a siren, but this does not necessarily mean that the person is intentionally not cooperating. A mentally disabled person or a person with a psychological disorder like the Compton man discussed above may respond negatively to forceful communication or physical contact, causing a situation to escalate out of control.
Whether excessive force was used in the Compton park arrest remains to be seen, pending a complete investigation. We believe this incident does send a clear message to law enforcement agencies across Los Angeles, which is that officers should be properly trained in identifying disabilities and handling disabled people. Miscommunication and misinterpreted disabilities should not translate into police beatings or the use of excessive force. Training can prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place, as these are difficult situations that leave officers facing split-second decisions on how to deal with a suspect or arrestee.
At Lessem & Newstat, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are committed to helping people across Southern California who have been arrested or accused of crimes. We can offer specific insight and guidance as it applies to cases involving what may have been excessive force, unlawful arrests or other cases of police misconduct or brutality. For a confidential consultation, call our offices.