can’t see the forest

UCLA Student Repeatedly Tased, Ordered to “Stand Up”

Posted in activism, Crime, law enforcement, News, police brutality, UCLA by Curtis on 11/17/06

Raincoaster also has an excellent post on this, with video.

From the Associated Press:

A camera phone captured a UCLA student being shocked with a stun gun by a police officer after he allegedly refused repeated requests to show his student identification and would not leave a campus library, university police said Wednesday.

The incident occurred about 11 p.m. Tuesday after police did a routine check of student identifications at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Powell Library computer lab.

“This is a long-standing library policy to ensure the safety of students during the late-night hours,” said UCLA Police Department spokeswoman Nancy Greenstein.

She said police tried to escort Mostafa Tabatabainejad, 23, out of the library after he refused to provide ID and would not leave.

Tabatabainejad, who was arrested for resisting and obstructing a police officer, was later released on his own recognizance.

“As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building,” Greenstein said.

Instead, Greenstein said, Tabatabainejad encouraged others at the library to join his resistance. When a crowd began to gather they used the stun gun on him. . .

Also, for clarity, it should be mentioned that Tabatabainejad is in fact a student at the University of California-Los Angeles and was in no way violating any protocol through his presence in his own student library.

Admittedly I have mixed feelings about this one.

There is no question to me that the repeated tasering of this individual is an example of extreme brutality in law enforcement. This is the primary issue here—if the guy won’t leave the library, you stall for time and call for backup. If need be (not that it was) you can physically remove him from the premises by picking him up and carrying him off.

It’s not like he was armed and dangerous.

What you don’t do is repeatedly deliver electric shocks to his body and then order him to stand up or else face more electric shock. That, I believe, is called torture.

On the other hand, I have to ask: why did Tabatabainejad refuse to give ID in the first place? It’s clear that he was doing nothing wrong simply by being in the library, so what was the big deal? I wince, but I’ll ask it because my conscience tells me I should: was he hoping to make a scene? Certainly he wasn’t hoping to get tased, but why else would a UCLA student in good standing refuse to comply with established security procedures?

Armed officials roaming through a library asking for ID does smack of a police state to me, let me be clear. All I’m saying is that I would have a hard time being convinced that Tabatabainejad wasn’t acting purposefully on some level in his refusal to comply. Let’s not protest our own martyrdom.

But, as I said, that’s not the main issue here as I see it. Those cops and their bosses need to be investigated, fired, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Help me out, somebody…is there something here I’m missing?


14 Responses

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  1. raincoaster said, on 11/17/06 at 12:59 am

    What you’re missing is the default belief that it is up to the citizen to justify his presence to the authorities. It is not. Unfortunately, the belief is widespread in our current society. Public servants should do just that, and the role of the police in the absence of a crime is to maintain order; in what sense can they be said to have fulfilled that role here?

    People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.

    No question Tabatabainejad is being a jerk. No question that is not a crime.

  2. Curtis said, on 11/17/06 at 1:11 am

    Very well said, thank you. I can’t say that I completely agree that someone present in a facility designated for university students is free from the burden of proof that he/she is in fact a university student, but I do agree that there was no criminal behavior on the part of the student and that order was certainly not maintained, which is an apt point. I presume that he didn’t refuse to give his name, in which case his status as a student could have been quickly and easily determined. On the whole I concur, this was a flagrant abuse of power and the crime committed here is on the shoulders of the law enforcement. Or law perversion, as they’ve demonstrated.

  3. Alabaster Crippens said, on 11/17/06 at 9:24 am

    Non-compliance with police and authority is a simple and celar way of highlighting the abuses of power present in most systems of government. He almost certainly was acting to ‘create a scene’ but only to protest against an invasion of his privacy. If he had done anything to warrant a need to be identified (suspicion of committing a crime would be the obvious example), then possibly the request was justified. I doubt he expected a taser to be the response, but I admire him greatly for standing by his convictions despite the obvious pain and refusing to co-operate. I hope all those ‘law enforcers’ will never be able to do something like that again. But I doubt they’ll get more than a slap on the wrist (this is conjecture though).
    Raincoaster summed this all up nicely but I’m trying to add that it is pretty much the moral responsibility of a citizen to stand up for his own civil rights and those of others. This is how people should be behaving all the time.
    The whole issue reminds me of an uplifting (if you ask me) story I read recently (I can’t remember where though) about a stop and search checkpoint in the London Underground. Basically the police were stopping everybody who passed through the station and searching their bags (presumably for bombs etc). One commuter said No. He explained, a small crowd gathering around him, that he didn’t feel that the police had cause to suspect him of committing a specific offence (a legal requirement for a stop and search in the UK). The crowd expressed that they felt the same way. Faced with this mass opposition to the routine, the police gave in and conformed to the law of the land. They stopped searching people. Its a whole united we stand and can stand up for our rights thing. Everyone must take responsibility of ensuring appropriate checks and measures on all forms of power. The watched must watch the watchers.
    I was surprised by the video over on Raincoaster by the fact that despite the crowd that formed, the police continued unabated. Even threatening another student, who was simply (and I thought rather calmly, all things considered) protesting the treatment of his fellow student. I like to think that I would have taken a taser to further demonstrate the abuse of power here. The whole thing is unbelievable.
    Sorry for ranting. It just upset me alot.

  4. Debi said, on 11/17/06 at 2:14 pm

    Before anything else, let me say I totally agree the police were out of line for tasering the student and had other options available for dealing with him in a less violent way. But I do think they had the right to ask for I.D. simply because it is a “long-standing library policy to ensure the safety of students during the late-night hours”.
    Tabatabainejad knew and agreed to this by entering the library in the evening, yet chose to make a scene by withholding his I.D. for some reason. Why?

    My only suspicion is based on a conversation with my teenage son today – a stretch, I admit. As a 17-year-old, it is illegal for him to buy cigarettes, but not illegal for him to smoke. As a smoker, he admitted to me that he goes out of his way to smoke in front of the police because he knows they can’t do anything to him. After checking his birth certificate to make sure he is, in fact, my son… I tried to analyze his stated behavior. There is a certain mentality, I believe, that enjoys provoking authority. In my son’s case, I believe it stems from losing his father several years ago. In this case, Tabatabainejad has shown a desire to provoke authority, and we can’t know his reason.

  5. Curtis said, on 11/17/06 at 2:36 pm

    Well, that’s pretty much my question, too. I think raincoaster said it best: No question he was being a jerk, but also no question that is not a crime.

    And no question, at least to me, that the police acted unlawfully and inhumanely in response.

    There are a great many aspects of contemporary bureaucracy that I believe are unnecessary invasions of privacy. Showing an ID card in a university library isn’t one of them…annoying, but not unnecessary, since it’s likely a prerequisite for one’s presence there. I wonder if this kind of situation could be prevented or at least significantly mitigated by having ID scanners on the doors, etc.

    But I’m not Tabatabainejad. If he was standing up for what he believes in, then I applaud him. Even if it were my place to make some sort of judgment, which it’s not, I couldn’t do so without knowing a little more about the library policy.

    Thoughtful comments from everyone, thank you.

  6. Jaime said, on 11/17/06 at 3:59 pm

    Bull……..Tabatabainejad is a “know it all college hippy”. If he had done as he was told in the first place all of this would be a mute point. Is everyone forgeting the fact that the police where there to PROTECT!? Do you complain when they remove a person not belonging? I hope the next time you are in need of a police officers assistance he/she tells you “sorry but I can’t bother that person loading his truck with a t.v., without checking ID I don’t know if that is his apt. and if he belongs there.” FULLY SUPPORTING LAPD!!!!!!!

  7. Curtis said, on 11/17/06 at 4:26 pm

    It is almost certainly true that, had the student done as he was told, the taser would not have been used. It is also plausible that the ID checks are a protective measure. I don’t have an argument against any of that, not least because I don’t know enough about the policies in place at UCLA and at this library in particular.
    Personally, in this student’s shoes, I would have had no problem showing my ID. A restricted-access university library is different from a public library in that respect. But this guy made a decision to be disobedient, fully within his rights, and so I’m sure he expected consequences. The point is that the consequences were far more harsh and abusive than necessary, and that’s why I hope the offending cops and their commanding officer(s) are prosecuted and penalized. I, too, support men and women in uniform. I do not support thugs in uniform.
    The student did not behave criminally in any respect. He was repeatedly shocked and told to stand up or else suffer more shocks. That is highly unreasonable and quite brutal treatment. If the police really wanted to remove him from the library, they could have called for backup and could have physically picked him up and carted him away—from the video, it looked like there were enough on hand to do that anyway. In the first place, assuming Tabatabainejad did not refuse to give his name, a quick series of radio communications could very likely have confirmed his identity.
    The police were there to protect, but may I ask whom exactly was protected? And whom was tortured? Isn’t part of the charge of a law enforcement official to use violent force only as a last resort? How was an unarmed college student placing the lives of the officers in danger?
    I respect that you fully support the LAPD, but I could not more strongly disagree with you. Thanks for your opinion.

  8. Jaime said, on 11/17/06 at 5:56 pm

    you say “…this guy made a decision to be disobedient, fully within his rights…..”. How is making a dicision to be disobedient within your rights? It’s not. If that were true then it would be fully within my rights to punch someone in the face, it’s not. I can do it but it is not my right. Also, what consequences “should” he have expected, a “don’t do that again mmmmmm k”? Further more, who were these cops suppose to radio to confirm he was a student? Remember it was late at night. Another thing, why are these cops suppose to assume he is who he is telling them he is? Is it really that hard to say your someone else? Keep in mind hind sight is 20/20, so the fact that he didn’t hurt anyone and didn’t do anything at the time was not known at the moment of action. We should also keep in mind that the video did not start untill after he was tased, we did not get to see what triggered it all (as in how he treated these men). FYI–a taser is not DEADLY FORCE, it is a non-leathel alternative.

  9. raincoaster said, on 11/17/06 at 6:26 pm

    “Do you complain when they remove a person for not belonging?”

    An interesting question.

    The student here did, in fact, belong, and the responsibility of the police to ensure the safety of students does not give them the authority to remove anyone who is not threatening the safety of students. The only people who were, in fact, a risk to the safety of students were, as the video shows, the police.

    In any case, “not belonging” is not an offence punishable by tasering in any civilized country. The Nazis redefined belonging according to their own guidelines just as these cops did. You are not, repeat, NOT compelled to identify yourself to the police if you are not under arrest. The right of the citizen to his privacy and his anonymity is a central tenet of American law, albeit one that has been under sustained attack by the Patriot Act among others.

    The American citizen does not need to justify his presence, nor reveal his identity to the authorities upon their demand.

  10. Curtis said, on 11/17/06 at 7:15 pm

    On the contrary, Jaime, a decision of simple civil disobedience is often entirely within one’s rights under the Constitution of the United States. This kid did nothing illegal. I think he was being a jerk, but that’s neither here nor there. Just because I don’t personally agree with the student’s actions—which really is irrelevant—doesn’t mean I am free to draw ramshackle analogies. And I’m pretty handy at drawing poor analogies, I might add. :-)

    Disobedience by refusal to present ID is a little different than disobedience by punching someone in the face, or disobedience by tasing an unarmed man repeatedly. In fact, it’s completely different. One is illegal; the other’s not, as raincoaster keeps reminding us, aptly.

    I was discussing this with my Mom over dinner. She is an ex-deputy sheriff of the county in which we reside and in fact was the first female to hold such a position in our state. In various situations she has been under fire and has managed to make arrests without once returning fire herself, which is no small potatoes. Tough lady. I only mention this to give some background to what she had to say.

    Incidentally, Jaime, she completely agrees with you and completely disagrees with me. I didn’t raise an argument with her because she is my Mom and I wanted to hear her viewpoint without interrupting, but she didn’t convince me. Her main points were that Tabatabainejad was asking for trouble and that hindsight is 20/20 and that these cops were probably acting out of fear and frustration, much as you’ve said yourself.

    I could see that she was getting quite worked up as she was thinking about this, which is mainly why I didn’t want to push the argument. She was getting emotional because she was probably to some extent reliving some of the more high pressure situations to which she’d been subjected while wearing a badge and carrying a gun. They didn’t have tasers back then.

    What I wanted to say to her is that, no matter how much I respect her or any other member of law enforcement, still I know that it is never simply okay-with-no-strings-attached for a police officer to act out of fear or frustration. Officers of the law are human beings, but their status as enforcers and the honorable and difficult jobs they have to do do not free them from the consequences of overreacting. It hurts me to say that, because I have immense respect for law enforcement in general and also personally in some cases. I am not a cop-hater, as much as I might disagree with many of the laws they are charged with enforcing.

    In this case we are not talking about the LAPD dealing with a group of hooded hoodlums in baggy clothes somewhere in a South Central back-alley with the smell of fresh crack in the air. We are talking about a university library. You may be right, it might not have been possible to ID this guy over the radio, although generally security at major universities is staffed around the clock and generally a database of all student information is kept available. But that’s beside the point. There was no reason to shock the guy four or five times, all the while screaming at him to stand up. Even Mom admitted that the situation looked extremely low-pressure to her, although she stopped short of saying that the cops overreacted.

    Perhaps we’re doomed to disagree on this one, but that’s not such a bad thing. I appreciate all angles. And, by the way, if I catch someone lifting my TV and the cops won’t touch ’em, you can bet I’ll ask them to keep their tasers holstered, thank you very much. You know why? Because I don’t want to risk a cop’s safety on behalf of my g.d. television, that’s why. I suppose I’m just a college know-it-all hippy in that respect.

  11. Alabaster Crippens said, on 11/18/06 at 5:28 am

    I want to add more but I feel it has all been said. Those who’ve made more moderate statements similar to mine are probably most in the right. I favour civil disobedience if that is what is necessary to defend what is right, particularly civil and human rights. I can’t see a college know it all hippy being a genuine threat to anything. The refusal to show card is within his rights and does not make him a threat. Any force is ridiculous in this situation, and he could simply have been removed instead of being put through this torture.
    The police should be respected fully only as long as they are actually protecting the safety of people and upholding the law; and that includes respecting people’s right to privacy unless there’s a hell of a good reason not to. At my old Uni there was an ID check on the door, but if you spoke to someone at the desk and explain that you are alumni or just explain why you want access then you get it. The benefit is that you don’t have to identify yourself, you just have to put a card over a scanner. They know who has walked into the library that day (assuming they keep records) but nothing more. This is not an invasion of privacy. Simply stopping someone and demanding ID is.
    Everything else has been said already, you’ve interested me greatly here by the way, and made me think where before I was just emotionally wrecked by seeing the footage. Where is the respect for fellow man here. Nowhere to be seen.

  12. Debi said, on 11/18/06 at 5:09 pm

    The thing that bothers me about this subject – aside from the unwarranted brutality with which the police responded – is how it seems the behavior of the police has eclipsed one important fact. I believe they did actually have the right to ask Tabatabainejad to show his I.D card. There was no right to privacy or anonymity established at the University Library, so how is the student acting correctly by disobeying, and what is he protesting? If the rule is “Everyone MUST possess student I.D. to use the library past a certain hour” and he was unable, where is the conflict? Does Tabatabainejad throw the same fit when he wants to buy beer and forgets his I.D.?

    As far as who the police could possibly be protecting, or protecting students from – my mind goes back to Ted Bundy who had an affinity for female college students and actually attended law school at one point. You just don’t know. And who’s to say someone who looks like a college student isn’t just hanging out there, but should be escorted out?

    Yes, the police overreacted, but we shouldn’t overreact, either.

  13. Alabaster Crippens said, on 11/18/06 at 7:11 pm


    I think you are right to an extent, in that this specific case has a lot of odd variables in it. The problem is, as Raincoaster points out, that he was within his legal rights to refuse to show ID, and should have been asked politely to leave if he was unwilling to be identified. Plus, as noted above previously, we don’t have the beginning of the story on video, so we can’t be sure what happened. The main problem is the assumption of guilt and the brutality. It can’t be assumed that refusal to show ID means he is guilty of anything. In your example of Ted Bundy, you note that he would not have been ‘caught’ by being IDed. He would have been allowed the access as a student.
    Anyway, my point about civil disobedience is supposed to be more generalised than that. I don’t think I’m over-reacting so much as using a slightly faulted example.

  14. zilla said, on 11/21/06 at 12:58 pm

    Hmmm. I’m not a fan of keeping the general public out of public university libraries. I’m a huge fan of civil disobedience, and not a fan at all of litigiousness, but I think this situation is lawsuit-worthy.

    Tasers have their uses, I suppose, but this was clearly abuse.

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