Nazareth M. Haysbert

LAPD beating of homeless man prompts call for federal probe

Homeless bipolar man hospitalized last year after being hit with Taser four times, struck on head and hog-tied by police

Attorneys representing a mentally ill homeless man allegedly beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers last summer have requested a federal investigation into the incident. 

Samuel Arrington, 52, who is homeless and suffers from bipolar disorder, was sitting on a chair under a beach umbrella at Venice Beach in Los Angeles on Aug. 7, 2014, when police officers used excessive force against him and committed an abuse of power, Nazareth M. Haysbert, one of Arrington's lawyers, told Al Jazeera.

Haysbert said he will soon file a federal lawsuit on behalf of Arrington against Los Angeles and the individual officers present during the incident. He is also calling for the Justice Department, which provides the LAPD with funding, to investigate how the department is spending that money and whether the officers are being provided the training they need to handle situations with mentally ill individuals. Haysbert added the officers' actions may amount to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Sam was a happy-go-lucky man,” Haysbert said. “He’s gone from that to a man who sees beasts in the faces of people.”

“They have to compensate him for what they did to him,” Haysbert added. “I don’t know how long it will take to get him back to where he was … but they’ve got to do their best to make it right and that’s why we’re here — not just for Sam but for every homeless or mentally ill person.”

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According to an LAPD police report of the incident, and a video posted on YouTube, police officers warned Arrington that he would be arrested if he refused to sign a citation for being in violation of various city codes.

When Arrington refused, the officers removed him from his chair, used a Taser on him him four times as he continued to resist arrest, struck him in the head multiple times and hog-tied him in front of a crowd of over 100 astonished onlookers.

The police report said Arrington tried to grab one of the officer’s weapons before he was struck in the head. It added that the Taser was used because police officers could not gain control of his arms.

Arrington, who was taken to the Marina del Rey Hospital following the incident, has struggled to recover from the attack, Haysbert said, and that's why attorneys have not taken the case public until now.

It was the second time in less than a month an encounter with the police led to Arrington’s hospitalization, according to a separate police report from July 29, 2014. Police officers had attempted to detain Arrington in the same area because he fit the description of a 40-year-old man wanted in a battery case.

Arrington said he did nothing wrong and refused to comply with police orders, and resisted when officers tried to arrest him — leading to unspecified injuries for which he was taken to the Marina del Rey hospital. Two police officers involved in the struggle received knee abrasions and a third reported a laceration to the arm, according to the police report.

Previously, on Jan. 5, 2014, Arrington was beaten and shot with a Taser by LAPD officers, Haysbert said. But the worst beating Arrington suffered at the hands of police officers occurred on June 27, 2011 — when he was left with a gaping wound on his head that required 18 staples to close, Haysbert added.

In the latest incident, officers said in their report that they had approached Arrington because they observed him “loudly voicing his religious beliefs from a seated position under an umbrella which was tied to a city bench."

The police report also said Arrington had an open backpack placed at his feet where passersby could deposit donations.

“This is a man showing signs of mental disability sitting peacefully on his chair not presenting any threat,” Haysbert said. “Several things stuck out to (the officers) that I believe set them off, which were in the police report — he had his stuff with him, and that was enough for them to talk to him and harass him.”

The LAPD told Al Jazeera it had no comment on the incident. The police department has told local news outlets that "it has initiated an Internal Affairs investigation and is continuing its investigation into the alleged use of force."

The attack on Arrington and other similar incidents lends urgency to a measure making its way through the California state legislature, Haysbert said. Called the “Right to Rest” act, the bill would decriminalize homelessness and allow individuals to carry out basic acts of survival in public areas without being harassed by police.

Similar legislation was introduced in the state legislatures of Hawaii, Oregon and Colorado this year as part of a national homeless rights campaign.

“The police beating and tasering of Samuel Arrington, a mentally ill homeless man in Los Angeles, as captured on video, was a horrific abuse of police authority. But it is just one example of the violence now being inflicted on homeless Americans across the country,” Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said in a statement.

“Cities are increasingly using the criminal justice system to remove homeless and poor people from public places by criminalizing their presence there,” Foscarinis said. “This official criminalization of homelessness sends the clear message that homeless people are less than human, and sets the stage for the kind of treatment inflicted on Samuel Arrington.”

Other homeless advocates said Arrington’s experience mirrored other highly publicized incidents involving mentally ill or homeless people being attacked or killed by police in recent years.

They include Marlene Pinnock, a mentally ill woman beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer in Los Angeles in 2014; Ezell Ford, a mentally ill man shot to death by LAPD police in August 2014; and Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man killed by six police officers in Fullerton, Calif., in 2011, according to Haysbert's press release.

“It’s a case like this that could actually push them to pass these laws to decriminalize homelessness and make it harder for the LAPD to do what they’re doing,” Haysbert said. “It’s not just Sam, it happens to so many of these homeless people who don’t know how to articulate what has happened to them.”

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