Published January 13, 2015
A University of Florida student who was arrested and Tasered during a forum featuring Sen. John Kerry touched off a debate about campus free speech and raised questions about whether campus police used excessive force.
A judge released Andrew Meyer, 21, a student at the University of Florida, from jail Tuesday on his own recognizance. A phone call seeking comment from Meyer’s attorney, Robert Griscti, was not returned.
A video of the incident shows Meyer, a journalism student, trying repeatedly and heatedly to ask Kerry why he conceded the 2004 election after multiple reports of disenfranchisement of black voters and rigged electronic-voting machines.
Meyer was asked to leave the microphone after his allotted time was up but he refused. Campus police officers responded and tried to pull Meyer away in a struggle that lasted several seconds.
In the clip, officers force Meyer down as the student says he will walk out of the auditorium if officers let him go. They warn him that he will be Tasered — an electric shock weapon used by police to subdue suspects. Meyer can be heard crying out, "Don't Tase me, bro, don't Tase me" before the electric shock is applied. He is heard howling in pain.
As police intervened, Kerry is be heard saying: "That's all right. Let me answer his question." While Meyers was being dragged off, Kerry said, "Unfortunately he's not available to come up here and swear me in as president."
Two campus officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
"Administrators and police officials plan to analyze the incident and conduct an internal review and will consider changing protocols in response to this incident, if necessary," Machen said.
Kerry's office released a statement saying he was not aware of the severity of the police response.
"In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way," he said in the statement. "I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but again I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention.
"I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of answering him when he was taken into custody," Kerry said. "I was not aware that a Taser was used until after I left the building.
"I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured," he continued. "I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted."
Some experts believe Meyer could claim the use of excessive force in the incident.
“I would find it highly likely that he is going to sue,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech group.
Karen Conti, an attorney in Chicago, said Meyer has a good argument for excessive force since officers Tasered him when he was under control.
“I think the police officers were probably embarrassed that this was going on," Conti said. "I think they weren’t expecting anything like this and I think they overreacted."
The videotape could help prove excessive force, Lukianoff said.
“One weapon in combating campus abuses is to show the abuses in the light of day,” Lukianoff said.
But in a juror's eyes, the video might hurt — not help — Meyer’s case, Conti said.
“There’s going to be a lot of jurors who are going to say, ‘You know what? That kid asked for it,'” Conti said.
The university launched an internal investigation and also requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the incident, seeking all facts before coming to a conclusion.
“It's easy to look at the video and maybe arrive at a conclusion quickly,” said Steve Orlando, a spokesman for the University of Florida.
The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the incident "disturbing" and awaited the conclusion of the investigation.
"People have a reasonable expectation to ask questions in a public setting — even if they are aggressive and some disagree with their position — that is free speech, plain and simple," Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida executive director, said in a statement.
Police are recommending a felony charge for disrupting a public event. Prosecutors will make the call.
Students held a protest rally Tuesday afternoon, walking to the university police department on campus.
Orlando said the university welcomes student free speech, but asks them to do it peacefully.
“Students have every right to go out and express themselves, that’s what they’re doing and they have every right to do it," Orlando said. "We want to accommodate them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.