The New York Times reports:
A Ticket, 3 Taser Jolts and, Perhaps, a Trip to the Supreme Court
By ADAM LIPTAKPublished: May 14, 2012
WASHINGTON — There have been many hundreds of varied rulings in the lower courts on when the use of Taser stun guns by the police amounts to excessive force, and sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to bring order to this area of the law. Next week, the justices are scheduled to decide whether to hear an appeal from three Seattle police officers who say they are worried about the future of what they call “a useful pain technique.”
The case involves Malaika Brooks, who was seven months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle when she was pulled over for speeding. The police say she was going 32 miles per hour in a school zone; the speed limit was 20.
Ms. Brooks said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time. Ms. Brooks thought, wrongly, that signing was an acknowledgment of guilt.
Refusing to sign was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest Ms. Brooks. She would not get out of her car.The situation plainly called for bold action, and Officer Juan M. Ornelas met the challenge by brandishing a Taser and asking Ms. Brooks if she knew what it was.She did not, but she told Officer Ornelas what she did know. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. “I am pregnant. I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”
The three men assessed the situation and conferred. “Well, don’t do it in her stomach,” one said. “Do it in her thigh.”
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.Malaika Brooks posed no danger of life or even meaningful physical injury to the police officers or to anyone else. She was not suspected of a crime of any significance and she would have been subject to the same penalty -- a speeding fine -- whether police succeeded in arresting her or not. The only need to arrest her arose from her refusal to sign a piece of paper, after which she would have been allowed to go on her way. Instead, three police officers electrically shocked a pregnant woman three times in her third trimester.
So, the issue is the case can be summarized as,
'is there any conceivable circumstance under which police officers should be held legally liable for using a frequently lethal electric gun on a six months pregnant member of the public, or are there simply no limits whatsoever to when, where and how police can administer pretrial, extrajudicial and potentially lethal bodily shocks at their own whim?'Republicans are obsessed with "the life of the unborn child," except when the unborn child's mother is a minority woman who was going twelve miles over the speed limit when stopped by police. As soon as the police authority to use electric guns on speeders is invoked, the rights of the innocent unborn child must yield to the authority of the unrestrained police officer.
It won't matter that the police's behavior could be characterized as "attempted abortion," and no (white or Black) anti-abortion zealots will come to Malaika Brooks' defense. They certainly will not argue, as they do about abortion doctors, that these policemen should be the targets of an attempted murder because they attempted to murder an unborn child.
Blogger BrotherPeaceMaker observed back in 2007, as this case was in the very first stages of making its way toward the US Supreme Court,
In May of 2005, Malaika Brooks was deep in her third trimester when she was pulled over for a traffic violation by one of Seattle’s finest. When Ms. Brooks refused to sign the citation, a criminal offense in Washington State, the two police officers and their sergeant decided to taser her into compliance. Now a lot of people felt that Ms. Brooks made the choice to be difficult, to be arrested, and to put her unborn fetus at risk. People wrote that a responsible person would have signed the ticket or gotten out of the car when she was informed that she was under arrest. She chose to be belligerent.
Do none of these people have any experience with pregnant women?
By the time some women are in their third trimester, the months of discomfort, lack of sleep, urinating so frequently, hormones, and the other myriad of conditions and problems associated with pregnancy can develop a festering pool of highly charged negative emotions. No offense to any mothers or mothers to be but a single pregnant woman can make facing a gang look like a suitable alternative. Some times a pregnant woman will do her best be one, if not the most, unreasonable and stubborn forces of nature. Pregnant women can be childish and demanding. It should be common sense to give them the most benefit of doubt and they should be given a great deal of latitude.
The perception that the police would be justified in using their tasers on a pregnant woman can only be applied to a pregnant woman that is believed to be unworthy of public compassion. And with the lack of public consideration given to the average black woman when one of them come up missing, kidnapped, injured, or murdered it is no surprise to hear people say that the police were perfectly reasonable to use the torture device. These people probably consider the black woman lucky that the officers were equipped with their tasers and didn’t have to use their batons or their firearms.If the woman was Maryann from Sunnydale Farms, Kansas some people would have had a totally different appreciation for the situation.There are two female members of the US Supreme Court, but they are part of a para-liberal minority. The only issue for the Court will be whether to refuse to hear the case at all, which will leave standing police impunity, or how to write a decision in such a way as to make it more or less clear that while a Black woman has no rights that a police officer is bound to respect, nonetheless a white woman in the same situation should be given a little (but not much) more consideration. But then, these officers and all of America already know that.
Have I predicted the outcome of a case before the US Supreme Court? Well, at least I have predicted the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence (The Unreasonable, The Obstreperous) Thomas. This will not be the case in which the US Supreme Court tells police officers to end risking extrajudicial murder of mother and fetus by electric gun. The US Supreme Court might eventually outlaw abortion generally, but not abortions that may result from police's use of electric guns on pregnant mothers to enforce local speeding ticket signature requirements.
Perhaps most shocking is that the police officers involved have expressed no remorse that the Black fetus survived.