UCLA Taser Incident Raises Questions on Use of Force

U-WIRE-08/03/2007-UCLA: UCLA Taser incident report names several violations (C) 2007 Daily Bruin Via U-WIRE

By Anthony Pesce, Daily Bruin (UCLA)

LOS ANGELES -- The University of California-Los Angeles released an independent report on Wednesday, looking into the incident that occurred on Nov. 14, 2006 when a university police officer used a Taser on a student multiple times in Powell Library.

It found that a university police officer, who remained unnamed, violated UCPD guidelines for the acceptable use of force and generally accepted standards for police conduct on several occasions.

The student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, was using a station in the Powell CLICC lab during the night hours of the library, when only current students and faculty can be present. A Community Service Officer, unnamed in the report, asked Tabatabainejad to produce his BruinCard, and after he did not do so, university police officers were called.

The report was commissioned by former Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams and was conducted by the Police Assessment Resource Center and authored by Merrick Bobb and two of his associates.

The official UCPD report on the incident cannot legally be released, but in a statement issued by Abrams, he noted that the UCPD report found no violation of UCPD use of force policy.

"Having two fact-finders reach different conclusions regarding the same incident is not unusual in the legal system," read the statement. "Reasonable people may disagree regarding the inferences to be drawn from the same set of facts, and the facts may differ if some witnesses testify in one investigation and not in the other."

The report included a thorough account of the events leading up the use of the Taser on Tabatabainejad, and much of what has already been reported was confirmed.

The investigators had access to library security footage, as well as witnesses, CSOs and statements from the officers involved.

Contrary to initial reports, the Taser usage log revealed that the device was used on Tabatabainejad three times for a duration of five seconds each -- the Taser was not used five times.

The report also concluded that at most Tabatabainejad was a passive resister to the officers, the crowd was not hostile to the officers, and that generally the situation was under control.

The report further concludes that when an officer originally touched Tabatabainejad, that action constituted an unnecessary use of force; the initial use of the Taser on Tabatabainejad was unwise and potentially a violation of the UCPD use of force policies; and the subsequent two uses of the Taser on Tabatabainejad were violations of use of force policies.

"Regardless, the level of resistance, even if not strictly or absolutely passive, was not actively or violently aggressive, and the use of the Taser was not justified," read the analysis section of the report.

The authors were also able to confirm that Tabatabainejad was attempting to leave the library when he initially encountered the officers, and that the incident escalated because of poor judgment on the account of the officers.

Several recommendations were also made to change UCPD's Taser use policy, which the report found was more lenient than common practice in other law enforcement agencies.

Some recommendations include distinguishing between the two different modes on the Taser, creating a use of force chart or matrix showing officers clearly when it is acceptable to use a Taser, and prohibiting the use of a Taser against "passively or mildly resistant" people.

One point of contention is whether or not Tabatabainejad was handcuffed when the Taser was used on him; as there is lack of concrete evidence to support or debunk this claim, a firm conclusion cannot be reached -- but the authors of the report seem to think that he probably was handcuffed when the Taser was used on him the third time.

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