Federal Court Approves Traffic Stop Tasering Of Pregnant Woman

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
federal court approves traffic stop tasering of pregnant woman

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Friday that it was acceptable for police to taser a pregnant mother over a minor traffic ticket. On November 23, 2004, Seattle, Washington Police Officer Juan Ornelas had been running a speed trap when Malaika Brooks passed by while driving her eleven-year-old son to school. Ornelas pulled over Brooks and accused her of speeding at 32 MPH. Brooks believed that the officer had mistakenly clocked the car ahead of hers, so she refused to sign the ticket thinking it would be an admission of guilt.

“I’m not signing, I’m not signing,” Brooks said.

Eight years previously, Brooks had been stopped for another offense and she refused to sign the ticket. The officer on the scene allowed her to go without incident. This time, however, a second officer on the scene, Donald M. Jones, became incensed. He brandished a taser saying it would hurt her “extremely bad” if she did not get out of the car so that they could take her to jail. Brooks said that she was seven months pregnant, but Jones did not care. Ornelas put her in an armlock while Jones blasted the pregnant woman three times with the taser in her thigh, shoulder and neck. The officers then dragged her out of the car.

A jury subsequently refused to convict Brooks of resisting arrest. Brooks sued the officers over their use of excessive force. The appellate court, however, believed the jury to be in error.

“Based on Brooks’s undisputed uncooperative behavior, a reasonably prudent person would have believed Brooks was violating section 9A.76.020 by obstructing the Officers’ attempts to obtain her signature and complete the traffic stop,” Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall wrote for the majority.

The court went on to argue that the use of force on a non-threatening and non-violent motorist was appropriate and reasonable. The appellate court ruled that the pregnant woman could pose a threat to three armed male police officers.

“Although obstructing an officer is a more serious offense than the traffic violations, it is nonetheless not a serious crime,” Hall wrote. “It would also be incorrect to say Brooks posed no threat to officers. While she might have been less of a threat because her force so far had been directed solely at immobilizing herself, a suspect who repeatedly refuses to comply with instructions or leave her car escalates the risk involved for officers unable to predict what type of noncompliance might come next… Brooks may not have posed a great threat, she did pose some threat by virtue of her continued non-compliance.”

The court then gave the officers involved full immunity for their actions, ending the lawsuit filed by brooks. Judge Marsha S. Berzon filed a blistering dissent pointing out that the legislature in 2006 removed the requirement for motorists to sign a ticket as evidence of the lack of proportion of the police response in this case.

“Refusing to sign a speeding ticket was at the time a nonarrestable misdemeanor; now, in Washington, it is not even that,” Berzon wrote. “I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense…. Instead, a traffic offense — assuming it occurred — turned into an encounter that inflicted physical and, in all likelihood, emotional pain on a citizen who was not in any way dangerous to anyone.”

Berzon went on to blast the court’s theory that Brooks was guilty of obstructing a police officer.

“The majority’s attempt to elevate the misdemeanor of refusing to sign the notice to the gross misdemeanor of obstructing an officer is simply beyond the pale,” Berzon wrote. “Nor does the majority point to any authority supporting its off-the-wall theory… In short, there was just no cause to arrest Brooks for obstructing an officer. None. That is probably why the officers have never suggested that there was.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.

Brooks v. Seattle (US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 3/28/2010)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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  • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Mar 29, 2010

    "Cops should have asked themselves “Would I punch a pregnant lady and throw her to the ground over a speeding ticket?” If the answer is no, they should not use the taser. If the answer is yes, they should be fired." If she does not fully and immediately comply with any and all commands? Unlikely they would be fired, as the new training is highly paramilitary - "control" over your suspect/situation is the first and primary goal. And you are to use any and all means at your disposal to gain that "control". Used to be that was talking to your suspect was the first step... The publicly preached rationalization of course, is officer safety. Mythology at best, since, big picture, it has never really been dangerous to be a cop in America. Yes, there are dangerous cities/neighborhoods, but it's more risky to work at the gas station in that neighborhood than to be LE. You are far more likely to die doing construction. Or landscaping. Not to mention commercial fishing. In fact, LEO isn't even in the top ten career fields that can get you killed on the job. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) Yes, it can be a rough gig on occasion. That's the part of the job. The larger point is the longer-term one. As cstoc noted, that 11 year witnessed something very, very wrong. The increasing frequency of incidents like this, and the adoption of insanely over armed no-knock warrants are not good for the image of LE at all.

  • Brandon Milner Brandon Milner on Mar 29, 2010

    Generally curious, if your task is to arrest someone, and they refuse to allow themselves to get arrested (by holding still, not letting go of the wheel, not going with you etc.), then isn't that the literal dictionary definition of resisting arrest? What do officers have as options at that point? 1. Mention they are resisting arrest and there will be further penalties? 2. Physically force the arrest to occur?(picture dragging conscientious objectors etc.) There's debate on whether an arrest was warranted at all for sure, but assuming the decision was made to pursue the arrest, don't officers have the right to make that occur, over the physical resistance of the suspect?

    • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Mar 29, 2010

      Fair enough. You have an uncooperative, unarmed, female, and pregnant subject. Who poses no danger to you or to others. Who is not acused of a felony. Who is not fleeing. You have her outnumbered. Are you really going to drag her out and risk that damaging fetus? Are you really going to use a less than lethal device on her? Really? A cop who is good at his/her job could have talked her out. I understand your point, but this case is just SO egregious, it's just wrong.

  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.