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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Tasering of UF student sparks uproar
Protesters speak out, UF's president is embarrassed and the state is investigating.
By STEPHANIE GARRY, Times Correspondent
Published September 19, 2007
University of Florida student Andrew Meyer is released from the Alachua County Jail in Gainesville, Fla., on his own recognizance. Meyer was arrested and Tasered by campus police on Monday after repeatedly interrupting a speech given by Sen. John Kerry at the university.
University of Florida students walk to the University Police Department in Gainesville, Fla., to protest of the arrest of fellow student Andrew Meyer during a speech by U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
GAINESVILLE -- Citing a regrettable crackdown on free speech, the University of Florida put two police officers on paid leave and requested a state investigation into the use of a Taser on a student during a Monday speech by U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters sat cross-legged on the floor of the campus building where UF president Bernie Machen told reporters he regretted the incident because it interfered with the university's core mission of the open exchange of ideas.
"The black eye is that ... discourse didn't occur," Machen said. "I'm embarrassed by it."
The controversy began when Andrew Meyer, 21, asked Kerry about a book that argues the senator won the 2004 presidential election. Speech organizers said time was up, and Meyer's microphone was turned off. Two police officers struggled with him to the back of the auditorium, where other officers joined and forced him to the ground, Tasered and handcuffed him.
Meyer was arrested on charges including resisting arrest with violence, a felony, and interfering with an educational event, a misdemeanor. He spent a night in jail before his release Tuesday morning on his own recognizance. He had no comment when he left.
UF has placed the sergeant who ordered the use of the Taser and the officer who shot it on paid leave. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate whether force was properly applied, and its report will be forwarded to a panel of professors and students who will recommend any changes to UF's policy. The State Attorney's Office will decide whether to formally charge Meyer.
The arrest escalated into a national spectacle with the help of technology and a campus climate charged with worry over the Virginia Tech shootings. Hundreds of thousands of people viewed YouTube videos showing his question and shouts of "Don't Tase me, bro" and "I didn't do anything" as officers subdue him.
"In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way," Kerry said in a statement Tuesday.
Machen, who has been flooded with calls and e-mails about the arrest, said UF must ensure the safety of students and their right to free speech.
Machen said Tasers are an accepted law enforcement tool on most campuses. UF spokesman Steve Orlando said police started using them in 2001, and 17 students, including Meyer, have been Tasered. But none created such a controversy as this.
UF has not suspended Meyer, and Machen said he is welcome to return to classes. "The sooner the better," Machen said.
Meyer, a telecommunications junior from Weston, has a Web site that features a self-described "disorganized diatribe" criticizing media coverage of the Iraq war. The book he held at Monday's event was Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast, which reports on voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential contest and calls Kerry the victor.
He's also known for posting practical jokes and comedy routines online.
Meyer was a columnist for the Independent Florida Alligator, the student newspaper, for at least a semester more than a year ago, but was not given regular space more recently.
Josh Goldman, a UF senior who met Meyer two years ago, said his friend is interested in presidential candidate Ron Paul and 9/11 Truth, a movement that questions the mainstream explanation of Sept. 11.
Meyer was noticeably absent Tuesday. Friends had not seen or heard from him, and he did not attend the protest or a news conference held by his attorney, Robert Griscti, who said Meyer was resting and wouldn't be made available to reporters.
Before asking his question Monday, Meyer handed a videocamera to Clarissa Jessup, a Santa Fe Community College student who didn't know Meyer, and asked her to record his question. Jessup followed him and wedged herself between police officers to capture his screams after being hit with the Taser. She uploaded it to YouTube that day.
"I couldn't believe the injustice that was happening to him," Jessup said.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.