(NaturalNews) When they were first implemented by police, the goal of using tasers was to help subdue potentially rowdy or dangerous suspects without having to use deadly force. But increasingly, the taser has become a "weapon" of sorts in and of itself, and while not deadly in nature, its increasing popularity - and use - by overzealous officers is something Congress or the courts are going to have to address eventually.
Take the case of Seattle resident Malaika Brooks. Pregnant seven months and driving her 11-year-old son to school one recent morning, she was pulled over by cops for speeding (32 in a 20-mile-per-hour school zone). Not within the speed limit, sure, but not exactly channeling Danica Patrick either.
Police wrote her out a ticket and once finished, Brooks said she would accept it but not sign it because she believed that doing so was an admission of guilt. As it happens, signing traffic tickets was required by state law at the time, but Brooks was unaware of that, The New York Times
reported.Making a bad situation worse
Refusal to sign constituted a crime but before simply arresting her, the two officers on the scene summoned a supervisor. The sergeant instructed the officers to place Brooks under arrest, but then she refused to get out of her car.
At that point, "bold action," the Times
said, was clearly indicated. At that, Officer Juan M. Ornelas stepped up, pulled out his taser and asked Brooks if she knew what it was.
She said she didn't know what it was but what she did know was that she had to go to the bathroom and told the officer as much. "I am pregnant. I'm less than 60 days from having my baby," she added.
The officers and supervisor discussed the situation, then decided on a course of action. One said, "Well, don't do it in her stomach. Do it in her thigh."
said, "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."
All as her child was in the car
At that point, Brooks fell over and the cops dragged her from the car to the street. They laid her face down and cuffed her hands behind her back.
In the ensuing months, the report said, Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She was also convicted for her refusal to sign the ticket, which was a misdemeanor - but she was not
convicted of resisting arrest. She proceeded to file a lawsuit against the officers for the immense pain they inflicted and the physical scars the left.
Now at this point one might be tempted to say Brooks got what she deserved for refusing to cooperate with police
. But if so, wouldn't you almost also have to question what could be considered excessive use of tasers?The court was split over the issue
Yes - and no, said a 10-member panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. On a split decision, the panel ruled that officers used excessive force but could not be sued over it because the law at the time of the arrest - 2004 - was not clear on the question.
So, the officers were cleared, so to speak, but the incident put them and their colleagues around the country on notice that if they're going to use a taser
to subdue a suspect, there is a constitutional line that cannot be crossed in doing so.
For the record not all of the judges thought the officers were acting out of order.
The panel's chief jurist, Alex Kozinski, said Brooks was "defiant" and "deaf to reason," so she caused the incident. The cops, then, "deserve our praise, not the opprobrium of being declared constitutional violators. The City of Seattle should award them commendations for grace under fire," Kozinski added.
He was joined by Judge Barry Silverman, who wrote that "tazing was a humane way to force Brooks out of her car."
"There are only so many ways a person can be extracted from a vehicle against her will, and none of them is pretty," he said. "Fists, batons, choke holds, tear gas and chemical spray all carry their own risks to suspects and officers alike."
Their employer, the City of Seattle, however, doesn't agree with the dissenting judges or
their own officers. The cops have appealed to the Supreme Court to have their names cleared, and the city has filed its own brief in the case, disputing the officers' claims that the 9th Circuit's ruling was tantamount to "the sky is falling."
Brooks is still pursuing claims under state law. Her lawyer, Michael F. Williams, summed up what most of us are probably thinking:
"The officers are trying to defend inexcusable conduct. They inflicted enormous pain on a woman who was especially vulnerable over what was essentially a traffic violation."