Malaika Brooks (photo above) was pulled over while driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle for speeding. She was going 32 MPH in a school zone and the speed limit was 20 MPH. Ms. Brooks had no problem accepting the ticket but refused to sign because she believed it was an admission of guilt (which it isn’t).
This refusal to sign is a crime so the two officers on the scene contacted their sergeant for backup and assistance with the situation. The sergeant instructed the two officers to arrest Ms. Brooks at which point she refused to get out of the car.
Officer Juan M. Ornelas took out his Taser and proceeded to ask Ms. Brooks if she was aware of what it was. She told the officers that she didn’t know what it was but she did give them a rather vital bit of information. She told them,“I have to go to the bathroom. I am pregnant. I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”
At this point all three officers on the scene, Ornelas, Steven Daman and Donald Jones decided to move ahead with the use of the Taser. They believed that Brooks was too large and strong of a woman to remove from the vehicle without risking injury to her or themselves. One of the police stated, “Well, don’t do it in her stomach. Do it in her thigh.”
Then according to the New York Times:
Officer Ornelas twisted Ms. Brooks’s arm behind her back. A colleague, Officer Donald M. Jones, applied the Taser to Ms. Brooks’s left thigh, causing her to cry out and honk the car’s horn. A half-minute later, Officer Jones applied the Taser again, now to Ms. Brooks’s left arm. He waited six seconds before pressing it into her neck.
Ms. Brooks fell over, and the officers dragged her into the street, laying her face down and cuffing her hands behind her back.
In the months that followed, Ms. Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby girl; was convicted of refusing to sign the ticket, a misdemeanor, but not of resisting arrest; and sued the officers who three times caused her intense pain and left her with permanent scars.
The officers won a split decision in October from a 10-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. The majority said the officers had used excessive force but nonetheless could not be sued because the law on the question was not clear in 2004, when the incident took place. While the ruling left the three officers in the clear, it did put them and their colleagues on notice that some future uses of Tasers would cross a constitutional line and amount to excessive force.
The judge dissented the opinion that they used obsessive force and even went as far as to say, “They deserve our praise, not the opprobrium of being declared constitutional violators. The City of Seattle should award them commendations for grace under fire.”
In the end they (the officers) won but in spite of the verdict they have appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court because the law enforcement community fears that the ruling of obsessive force will limit their future abilities to use Tasers when they deem it necessary. Next week the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the appeal.
What’s your opinion? Do you believe the officers should be awarded, “commendations for grace under fire,” or did they use excessive force by knowledgeably tazing Ms. Brooks three times in her third trimester?