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A homeless man who was allegedly assaulted by Los Angeles Police Department officers in front of a crowd in Venice Beach has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the 14 police officers involved, according to his attorney.
Police officers attempted to ticket Sam Arrington, a 52-year-old homeless man who suffers from bipolar disorder, for having an oversized umbrella on the beach tied to city property on Aug. 7, 2014, among other nonviolent citations included in the police report.
When Arrington refused to sign the citation, officers removed him from his chair by holding his arms and legs, used a stun gun on him four times, struck him in the head multiple times and hog-tied him in front of a crowd of onlookers calling on the police to stop, according to a video of the incident as well as the police report.
“The lawsuit’s main claim is excessive force — we felt that the decision to Taser and hog-tie Sam was objectively unreasonable in light of the circumstances, for having an umbrella beyond regulations,” Nazareth M. Haysbert, one of Arrington’s lawyers, told Al Jazeera.
“To abuse him in front of a hundred people, even if it was lawful to arrest him, it was not lawful to show that degree of force to do so,” Haysbert added.
The LAPD told Al Jazeera it does not comment on cases with pending litigation.
Haysbert announced the lawsuit in front of the LAPD Headquarters in downtown L.A. on Tuesday.
The release of the video showing the alleged assault on Arrington last month provoked a strong reaction from many who were shocked at the treatment of a man who did not appear to be posing a threat to anyone. During the video, individuals in the crowd could be heard calling on the police to stop as they forced Arrington to the ground as dozens of others sat under umbrellas on the beach as they enjoyed a sunny afternoon.
“What they see is a man who was harmless, there’s no negative to Sam’s story — he wasn’t reaching for a gun, he wasn’t running from the police,” Haysbert said. “Yet they treated him like a criminal, and in fact some people would say something even worse. When you look at how they strung him up and shackled him, took him off the beach by his feet and hands, it was incredible the dehumanization that was carried out on a human who already had nothing.”
Arrington’s few possessions were left on the beach when the LAPD arrested him and took him from the area, Haysbert said. The man’s bike, photos and family heirlooms disappeared — highlighting a wider problem faced by homeless individuals whose possessions are often viewed as trash.
That the police chose to arrest Arrington with such force reflects a growing problem in the U.S., Haysbert said. And Arrington was the “warning bell.”
L.A. County has seen a 12 percent rise in homelessness in the past two years and among them are mentally ill individuals with no access to the services they need.
“You also see police officers inadequately trained at every level to deal with the mentally ill and homeless,” Haysbert said. “Fully one-third of phone calls to police have to do with mentally ill individuals — they are the first responders for mental illness.”
In recent months, the LAPD has killed two homeless men. In May, the LAPD shot and killed Brandon Glenn, also known as “Dizzle,” during an argument outside a bar in Venice Beach. In March, a homeless man known as “Africa” was shot and killed on Skid Row after a rookie officer said the man tried to grab his gun.
"My client is lucky to be alive," Haysbert said. "If we don't handle this now, how do we stop more incidents like this from happening?"