The United States Court of Appeals has ruled that three Seattle police officers were justified when they tasered a pregnant mother three times when she refused to sign a traffic ticket. Malaika Brooks was driving her son to Seattle’s African American Academy in 2004 when she was stopped for doing 32 mph in a school zone. When she refused to get out of her car to be arrested, one officer tasered her repeatedly despite (she claims) knowing that she was pregnant.
The officers – Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones – hit her in the thigh, shoulder and neck and then hauled her out of the car and laid her face-down in the street.
While the baby was born two months later without injury, the mother has permanent scars from the taserings.
Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain ruled that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest. The judges insisted that, while surrounded by police and the car turned off, she still was a danger: “It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment’s notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation.”
Note, she was arrested after going 32 mph.
Judge Berzon wrote a lengthy and well-reasoned dissent, noting:
The stacked-up, unsubstantiated speculations that Brooks might have been able to retrieve the keys and might have decided to drive off (although she did not when she had the keys) and might have driven erratically if she did drive off and might have endangered people had she done so simply won’t do as a basis for believing Brooks posed a danger to someone. Indeed, if Officer Ornelas really believed she was going to take off and endanger people, all he had to do was hold on to the keys rather than drop them in the car.
Here is the opinion: Taser
103 thoughts on “Ninth Circuit Rules Police Officers Were Justified in Tasering Pregnant Woman Three Times Over Traffic Ticket”
FFLEO said “Furthermore, I would be ashamed to admit that I was one of the 2 male officers who could not physically gain pain compliance control over a 34-year-old woman—all 240 lbs of her or not.”
I too am reasonably sure that the officers could have physically gained control over the woman. But at what risk? Couldn’t that physical force have caused injury, not only the woman, but the officers too? If we’re considering the safety of the “unborn fetus”, I think the taser was a safer choice. (I haven’t been able to find anything that would convince me that the life of the “unborn fetus” was in danger by using a taser, unless the suspect was permitted to fall.)
I’m 6’2″ and 240 lbs. I doubt the woman had near the physical strength that I do, but I think it would take a lot to get her out of the car. Chances are pretty high that I would injure her if I tried to push her out of the car. I also think there is a pretty good chance that she would try to bite the other officer if he tried to pry her hands loose.
It wasn’t like the officers didn’t try to coerce her into just signing the ticket. They even called out the sergeant for assistance. Then they attempted to use a limited amount of physical force to extricate the woman from the vehicle.
For most here, any use of a taser is unacceptable (except when used instead of a gun). Potential injury to the officer is not even a consideration.
Are you too suggesting that if an attempt to make an arrest is made, and if the subject refuses to comply, the officers should just walk away? To me, that makes as much sense as Wal-Mart announcing that they will not prosecute thefts below $10. I know I would certainly refuse to comply when presented with that option.
I’d like to know where the new “arrest optional” state is going to be. That way I can stay far away from it. 🙂
If they would have tasered her because she failed to sign the ticket, that would be wrong. That is not what they did. After contacting the patrol sergeant the decision was made by the sergeant to arrest this woman. Like it or not, that is a lawful decision. Once the decision was made to arrest the woman, she failed to comply with the order to exit her vehicle. The officers attempted “to assist” her, but she held on to the steering wheel.
When a decision has been made by the sergeant, and the women will not comply, what do you suggest that they do? Please provide details that you feel would permit the task to be accomplished.
First, thank you for making the effort to read all that you could and posting links; such efforts make this blawg even more worthwhile.
I have not read the full opinion yet, although I think that the officer’s use of the Taser was unequivocally unwarranted. As a Federal LEO, I have several instances where a subject refused to sign a notice of violation (NOV) and that did not concern me because I had all of the relevant legal evidence I needed if a subject did not pay the citation or appear before a magistrate within the allotted time. In one instance, I had to serve a court summons on an individual violator. In that case, I found the violators wife—who was with her husband at the time of the incident—and after listening to the circumstances and learning that she had divorced her husband, they had lost their home, and many other problems including young children, which I verified, I called the Federal magistrate and requested that he drop the charges. I did not pursue the male subject further—although I really *wanted* this guy for his avoidance—and after sending a detailed written report to the judge, he agreed that the most equitable manner to resolve this issue was to dismiss the charges. Sometimes, even after spending many hours on a case, the most equitable justice is a dismissal.
Likewise in this case, the officers had all of the evidence they needed and they could have sent Ms. Brooks on her way to face justice another day. Furthermore, I would be ashamed to admit that I was one of the 2 male officers who could not physically gain pain compliance control over a 34-year-old woman—all 240 lbs of her or not.
At least one officer embellished (perhaps lied) about part of his report as the judge noted in the following quote and demonstrates possible tainting of other aspects of the case.
A quote from U.S. District Judge Richard Jones of which I agree:
“The judge pointed out, however, that one of the officers swore in a declaration that he had reached into the car and taken the keys from the ignition.
“In the face of this admission, Defendants’ repeated insistence that Ms. Brooks might have hurt someone with her car is wholly unconvincing, at best, and a misrepresentation to the court at worst,” the judge wrote in an order issued late Thursday. “The facts before this court show that Ms. Brooks posed no threat to anyone.”
Moreover, the officers were not in a life-and-death situation where they had to make a split-second decision. “Using a Taser to inflict extreme pain to effect the arrest … of a nonviolent pregnant woman already under police control is a Fourth Amendment violation,” the judge wrote.”
An important part of LE is displaying the ability to use one’s verbal skills in gaining a subject’s compliance. “Verbal Judo” is an important tool that perhaps they do not teach LEOs to the extent that they should. A traffic stop is never routine and there are heightened stress levels for the driver and the officer(s). In this case, neither the trained officers nor the untrained subject comported themselves properly. However, the LEOs had every advantage to avoid a confrontation, they were more blameworthy based on their assumed skill levels, which should have included an understanding of the 4th Amendment, and I strongly disagree with the 9th Circuit’s ruling.
” I run into this a lot. People don’t like what was done, but they can’t provide any alternative means that would be effective. If you, yourself cannot provide an alternative means of resolution, how do you expect the sergeant to gain from “training in problem solving”? Your argument is emotional but not rational. “…..DUH
That is actually funny. My argument is the rational one, I suspect that the decsion that the officers made in this situation stemmed from emotion….anger to be exact. If, as a society, we start saying that it is ok for any law enforcer to act out of anger rather than rationality we are all on a lot of trouble. There need to be policies in place to manage difficult situations as they arise with the least amount of force. Pulling a taser on a person, when the potential of danger to the public is not evident, is not the least amount of force necessary to manage this situation.
“They never should have progressed to the point to where they needed to arrest this woman in the first place if they had any talent”
Is that statement being made from the experience gained in all of your years in law enforcement? One year? A ride-along? 🙂
I’m just so happy to know that everyone who disagrees with the actions taken by the police could have done a better job themselves.
You provided the same response that others did. In effect, take it to the ridiculous (i.e. shoot them) without providing an alternative. This is not an issue of providing a response commensurate with the crime. That would make police officers judge and jury. The issue here is using the least amount of force to complete the arrest. You seem to be implying that they should just skip the arrest if the subject refuses to comply. That is surely what Brooks would have liked them to do. And if they did it with her, they should do it for everyone else too. Shouldn’t they?
Next thing you know, nobody gets arrested. If you don’t like the law that permits an officer to arrest someone for not signing their traffic ticket, change the law.
I don’t think any of these questions are relevant to the main issue, which as I see it, was a response out of proportion to the crime.
Your line of reasoning, it seems to me, could justify any ultimate response to any infraction no matter how small. An uncooperative perp could ostensibly be shot dead for jaywalking, for example. We can’t have a society like that. The response must, it seems to me, be proportional to the crime.
Was this woman in the wrong? Of course. Was the police response unproportional and unimaginative? In my opinion absolutely. Police handled worse situations like this for years without using tasers or riotsticks or guns. That is supposed to be a key part of their training. But they now have tasers, so they use them.
In my opinion, in this case, they used the taser way too indiscriminately. (They never should have progressed to the point to where they needed to arrest this woman in the first place if they had any talent).
LJM, What part of condition of bond don’t you understand? IF you don’t like the law, I urge you to get the law changed. But implying that officers should ignore the laws that you don;t like is ludicrous. Isn’t it?
I’ll ask you the same thing I asked Gingerbaker. When a police officer attempts to perform a legalized authorized arrest, and the subject refuses to comply, should they just say “oh, well” and walk away?
What force was used before the tazer was employed?
Why do we have ultra-slow speed limits in school zones? Is it to protect children against a known hazard, or is it just a chance to let “the man” restrict your liberty?
What do you suggest should be done when a signature is a condition of bond, and the person refuses to provide that signature? When a police officer attempts to perform a legalized authorized arrest, and the subject refuses to comply, should they just say “oh, well” and walk away? I’m really interested in you response.
After reading the account, I don’t see this as anything the officers did for fun. A lone officer, an officer with his/her partner, or officers in the heat of pursuit are more likely to do that. In this case, the officer got backup, and then called for the patrol sergeant to make the call regarding arrest. They tried to convince her to just sign the ticket, but she refused. Then they tried to use physical force, including a painful arm lock, but she still refused. Then the officer pulled the trigger on the tazer in an attempt to demonstrate what would happen if she still refused. After all that, she still refused. Then she got tazered.
I’ve seen plenty of instances where the use of a taser was premature, if warranted at all. This was not one of those cases. Ive also seen instance where the use of a tazer was abusive. Again, this is not one of those cases. The officers had full reason and authority to make an arrest. I can think of no other method of forced compliance that would have put the officers and this woman in a better situation. Further attempts to wrestle her out of the car would have likely resulted in injury to the woman, and the officers. She alone had the utlimate responsibility of protecting her “unborn fetus”. She alone had the duty to avoid unnecessary risk.
Duh, why is it necessary to use violence against a person who won’t sign a piece of paper?
Or not. Arguing by assertion is not a recipe for success.
<blockquote> “She ENDANGERED children by speeding in a school zone. “
That’s a bit of a stretch, and the crux of the problem with your argument. 32 mph in a school zone is not reckless endangerment. The police, acting as agents of the State, have an obligation to use discretion in order to match their response to the severity of an infraction. They blew it, and your argument therefore sucks.
BTW, if she was, as you insist, actually endangering children, what should be the proper response of the police if she was instead a Roman Catholic priest who drove onto RCC property and claimed asylum? ;D
Taser-ball is a new sport invented by LEO’s. Ordinarily I’m a big supporter of LEOs … lots of friends in different departments. I’ve been to several events (gatherings) and heard many joking references to playing “taser-ball”. LEOs have a certain kind of humor that one always has to take with a grain of salt.
This particular incident reminded me of several of those “taser-ball” jokes.
Anyone who has dealt with a 7 month pregnant woman knows how dicey things can get. Most species protect the pregnant out of pure instinct for survival of the species. (Which is part of the problem when debating the issue of abortion … but that is for another thread.)
In this instance, and considering the dissenting opinion, I, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, suggested that basic instinct was overcome by the desire to play a quick game of “taser-ball”.
Thus I posted: “A seven month pregnant woman is vulnerable in so many ways … especially if she belongs to the humanity herd in Seattle where a pregnant woman becomes part of the equipment in a pick up game of taser-ball.”
In taser-ball the biggest challenge is finding a “ball” to taser … a 7 month pregnant woman is easy pickin’s.
CE said “I would certainly not suggest brute force, and not just if the offender is a pregnant woman but any citizin. I can’t imagine that this is a scenerio that police have not encountered before, perhaps the sargeant needs some training in problem solving.”
I run into this a lot. People don’t like what was done, but they can’t provide any alternative means that would be effective. If you, yourself cannot provide an alternative means of resolution, how do you expect the sergeant to gain from “training in problem solving”? Your argument is emotional but not rational.
Could you imagine what it would be like if people were permitted to just ignore lawful orders? I can see it now. Pull over -NO. Pull over -NO. Don’t make me say it again! What are you going to do about it copper? Well. I guess nothing. Stupid cops.
“If they hadn’t had tasers available, would it have been ok to shoot the woman in front of her child who was sitting in the back seat?”
I see you have adopted George’s methods. 🙂 What kind of an example do you think she set for her son?
The reason she was stopped is not disputed. The reason for her arrest (she opted not to accept a signature bond) was reasonable. It was this ladd’t actions alone that caused her pain. I don’t care if the pain came from a taser, or from a police officer wrestling with her in order to make the arrest. I see no reason for a police officer to be forced into a physical confrontation with a beligerent woman.
I do like how you sided with the woman. The officer is supposed to show more compassion for her “unborn fetus” than she will. Besides, it’s just an “unborn fetus”. No reason to worry about protecting it. Right? 🙂
Okay, I see that. I withdraw my remark.
BTW George. I wouldn’t have stooped to calling you “foolish”.
You too George.
I think you are foolish and your arguments weak. You likely think the same of me and my retort. With that, we’ll have to agree to disagree.
Have a nice Saturday.
What is “taser-ball”?
“If I were an officer, I would rather have faced a reprimand from my superior for not getting a signature on the ticket rather than Tasering a pregnant lady.”
That’s why you complain about the law, and others accept the role of enforcing the law. You will complain about police officers doing their job long before you would tell the lady to follow the law. Bottom line; she brought this upon herself. It started when she chose to endanger the lives of children around the school. It escalated when she refused to comply with the order to sign the ticket (even after it was expalined that it was not an admission of guilt, but a promise to appear (in effect a personal recognizance bond) and continued to resist after other force was applied.) Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe you don’t understand that signing the ticket was a means of bond.
George said “As far as lawful commands go, I hope one of your female family members never questions (or misunderstands) a command given to her by law enforcement. I suppose you have all women in your house suffiencelty “educated” in this regard and they simply fall into a fetal position when in the presence of an “offical” and wait for their command.”
And you wonder why I find your arguments to be less than persuasive? We can take anything to the extreme to make it look ridiculous. You’ve proven that. 🙂
“By the way, the officer’s accounts of incidents are always correct, right? I’m sure he and his sergeant didn’t discuss their stories or anything before filing the report, of which they both come of looking most reasonable, I’m sure.”
That alone is a very obvious display of personal bias. You attempt to suggest that the officer’s account is a lie, when Brooks didn’t even disagree with the officer’s account. And here I thought the appellate court was the only one arriving at evidence based on their own conlcusion.
Comments are closed.