By on March 29, 2010

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.

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


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39 Comments on “Federal Court Approves Traffic Stop Tasering Of Pregnant Woman...”

  • avatar

    More obfuscate thinking from the 9th circus. Some things never change. Kudos to Judge Berzon for showing some sense.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    So let me summarize this situation.
    Lady was stopped for driving 32 mph in a 25 mph school zone (a top crime in the annals of history)
    Officer writes ticket.
    Lady refuses to sign. (event should have ended here, leave ticket with lady, wish her a nice day).
    Officers and lady get into wrestling match (more than one officer intimidated by a pregnant lady?)
    Officer scared and used taser three times to control lady.
    I believe the 9th Circuit is the most overturned federal court. They may get overturned on this one.
    The officers lost control (of their demeanor, not very professional).

    • 0 avatar

      “Officers and lady get into wrestling match (more than one officer intimidated by a pregnant lady?)”

      +10. (Though to be fair, she WAS fighting for two…)

  • avatar

    F-ing pigs will rot in hell.

  • avatar

    Meh, they both are at fault. The woman for being an ignorant cow and the cop for being a powermad ass.

    • 0 avatar

      But the officers are trained professionals and are supposed to react appropriately, proportionally, and legally. Law officers interact with disgruntled citizens all the time. The “event” should have ended with the (unsigned) ticket being left with the lady. The officers don’t care if the ticket ends up in the storm drain. It has been served. No signature was needed according to the law.

  • avatar

    Nothing like a revenue generating speed trap to mess up a person’s day.

  • avatar

    It’s episodes and rulings like this that cause many to call into question the competence, current configuration and staffing of both the law enforcement and judicial systems.

  • avatar

    The problem here is the taser’s use and ease as a compliance tool.

    Just as guns immediately escalate any situation to “worst available option”, the existence of the taser as an option essentially assures escalation to “‘I don’t have have time to discuss this\'”.

    At the very least, a gun requires the officer to think, very carefully, about repercussions vis a vis paperwork at least and the IA/SIU and/or manslaughter chargers at worst. Tasers and, to a lesser degree, pepper spray, don’t do that: there’s no repercussions to their use (usually) and in the andrenalin-driven arena of confrontation they’re too easy to reach for.

    It also gives me one more reason to think officers on the ground should be replaced by cameras: a camera isn’t going to taze, shoot, club, spray, plant evidence or otherwise “take an interest” in me, and I can fight a camera in court and with experimentation and evidence. I can’t fight a dirty cop and his two notebooks.

    The best part of this, if you can say it’s “good” is that it’ll further erode the moral authority of the force, much as the Dziekanski case did for the RCMP and force some changes. It’ll also likely lose on appeal and certainly in the court of public opinion.

    This is a hard time for law enforcement: omnipresent internet-connected cellphones and the internet are exposing some of the systemic rot. I don’t think this is a bad thing.

    • 0 avatar

      This was exactly the fear many people had when Tasers became a standard issue item.

      I would disagree about replacing cops with cameras, the US is Orwellian enough, thanks.

      I am however, 100% supportive of cameras on every officer. The tech is cheap and readily available. Video is open to interpretation, but still, anything is more reliable than eye-witness testimony.

  • avatar

    I’m not a physician, but anything involving electric shocks to pregnant women sounds extremely reckless at best and criminal at worst.

    What would this officer have done if his taser had prematurely induced labor, or caused a miscarriage?

    • 0 avatar

      He would tell her that that is a result of HER DECISION to act like an idiot on the side of the road.

      She could have just signed the ticket (a practice that I am so glad we don’t have in my state), and then argued her case in the appropriate venue…COURT.

      But…no…she decides it would be much better to argue on the side of the road. Well…what she got was a consequence of HER actions.

      I have no sympathy for her.

    • 0 avatar

      But is being tased a proportional response to not signing a ticket? The signature was apparently not required by law. The ticket was given to the offender, and can lie in the gutter or enter the storm drain. The ticket is still in effect – the offender cannot deny its existence.

  • avatar

    The meta-issue seems to be the ongoing para-militarization of our police forces.

    Sure, it’s prudent to have a SWAT team in a metropolitan environment, where there may actually be a scenario where society requires a paramilitary response to a threat situation.

    Sadly though, preposterous levels of over-response are now being trained-in, and are becoming normed for the average street cop. Even more worrying, is the level of public acceptance for such tactics.

    Effective policing is driven by positive community interaction, and the ongoing trend away from such interactions is troubling and does not bode well for our Republic.

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      Effective policing is driven by positive community interaction, and the ongoing trend away from such interactions is troubling and does not bode well for our Republic.

      The problem is talk like that gets you labeled as “soft on crime” by your electoral opponents. Never mind that being “tough on crime” hasn’t actually worked out all that well unless you make money running prisons.

      Happy, well-fed, gainfully-employed people with a future don’t commit crimes (or blow themselves up) to nearly the degree that poor, desperate, hungry, addicted and otherwise “broken” people do. At some point I hope that someone has the balls to point that out to the electorate, and that said electorate isn’t too brainwashed by fearmongering to listen.

    • 0 avatar

      Sadly, fear sells. And business is booming.

  • avatar

    Once i read that a signature was no longer required in the State of Washington, that sealed it for me. Either these officers were also unaware of the law (as was the woman) or they were power mad a–holes. Either way, they were in the wrong. The majority judges also seem to be unaware of the law in the State of Washington as well. They assumed that the woman was subject to arrest, and therefore, resisting arrest, which was apparently not the case. Unless you want to make the argument that police officers should have the right to arrest you even when they have no criem to base the arrest on. Maybe all of the judges should familiarize themselves with the applicable laws before rendering judgement. Nah, that’s too much like work.

    Several years ago, i saw a clip on TV where a lawyer arguing before the 9th circuit court of appeals had a slip of the tongue and referred to them as the 9th “circus” court of appeals. Hillarious.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in CA, IIUC, your signature is your promise to appear in court. If you refuse to sign, the officer is duty-bound to arrest you and haul you off to jail (taser optional, natch) so you may be compelled to show when your court date arrives. AFAIK, common wisdom in CA is to sign the ticket.

      What happens in WA if you refuse to sign the ticket? (Did such signatures become optional so that unsigned photo-radar and photo-red-light tickets would be legal?)


    • 0 avatar

      In my experience, when you suggest to the officer in WA that you’d prefer not to sign, they place their ticket book in their off hand and push it towards you while they place their strong hand on their firearm and begin to wiggle it in the holster.

      Of course, signing the ticket with the preface “Signed at gunpoint” doesn’t help their attitude, but it did get the ticket thrown out in court.

  • avatar

    Well, the Ninth Circuit is the Connecticut womens basketball team when it comes to be overturned by the Supreme Court. As I have noted before, the number one serious crime in the State of Washington is speeding*, we have pretty much cleaned up every other form of crime, thus leaving our law enforcement officers to only worry about revenue generation.

    *Not counting the former Seattle mayor’s obsession with strip clubs, and Everett’s mania regarding espresso stands tended by comely girls wearing pasties…

  • avatar
    John R

    I find this utterly disgusting. Three male cops with guns and they felt “threatened” enough to tase a pregnant woman for not signing a ticket.

    Like someone mentioned already, signed or not signed you served the ticket. It’s in the system. Say, “Have a nice day” and be done with it.

    Those morons and the judges who were out of their heads, save for this Berzon fellow, need to be sacked.

  • avatar

    With extreme sarcasm I bellow it is the DUTY of all citizens to obey the beloved STATE (peace be upon it) and that failure to unerringly be obedient at every moment should result in the most extreme penalties to ensure the beloved all-important vital State reigns supreme.

    ANY enforcement arm of our beloved STATE and the members within must possess ultimate unquestionable power to ensure all within the STATE (peace be upon it) comply at all times and ANY perceived threat by the State’s enforcement arms should be met by ANY response those wonderful heroes deem is needed.

    Life is so simple if ALL simply obey, comply.


    Any deviation from what the State desires must be squashed no matter the consequences to the inferior creatures existing within the beloved State.

    That female is lucky she was not killed for daring to defy in the least those heroes defending the beloved state.

  • avatar
    ex gm guy

    People in this cow town (Roanoke, Virginia) have been shot and killed by police for not much more than what this woman did. There is always an investigation, and the cop is always exonerated.

  • avatar

    The problem with many PDs is that officers have been de-programmed from using descretion in many situations. Everyone is treated exactly the same, from pregnant women to dopey teens. (And the sad thing – cop cameras will only make this situation worse.)

    The taser is a problem – in casual use. Of course, it’s an improvment over casual blackjack or nightstick whackings. On the other hand, 20 years ago no cop would have used any force on a pregnant woman (outside of a violent felony).

    That said, I don’t know what this woman was thinking. If you’re pregnant and a cop tells you “Sign or get arrested”, the choice is pretty simple. Fight the ticket in court.

  • avatar

    Holy cow, I can’t imagine the mindset it would take, just the level of callousness required to tase a pregnant woman not once, but THREE times? Even were she not pregnant I cannot imagine tasing a woman at all, especially if there were two other officers on the scene, how is it that not one of them had a problem with this? One deviant little pussy I can fathom, but three? They really need to up their standards for admission and education, ethics class for all public servants. Just…wow.

  • avatar

    My big issue has been mentioned before. How tasers are being used. In my city, they were sold to the public as an alternative to shooting someone if they had a knife or other non-firearm. Ever increasingly, they are being used as a pain compliance tool. If you would not use a gun in a certain situation, you should not use a taser either. Not only that, but in many cases, such as this one, a taser is used where physical control would not likely be used. 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.

  • avatar

    This sound like it was excessive, and abusive. You mean to tell me two grown men needed a taser to subdue a 7 months pregnant woman from her car because she refused to sign something? Give me a f**king break guys. Where is the video? Where is the audio to prove she was resisting to the point of needing to subdued? This stinks, and the court decision backs this up.

    She had her day (or months) in court, but let’s hope this gets elevated to another court or that she takes up a civil suit. Since the judges were pretty clear on their decision (minus the dissent of course) it makes you wonder who’s unions (police, *cough cough*) had been contributing to their campaign funds in Washington State. I’d love to hear the results of that!

    I also didn’t see anywhere in this article that the woman was ever actually convicted of any wrong doing as far as the speeding violation. What happened to the ticket violation itself?

  • avatar

    No one has mentioned that the driver’s 11-year old son was a witness to this episode. What is his attitude towards cops, now? Will he be more likely to obey them without question or subvert them as he grows up? In the long term, this kind of behavior by the police will only backfire against them.

  • avatar

    In Canada the RCMP have used tasers to shock and kill an unarmed man who didnt’ speak english and had been ignored for 10 hours in a secure area of the airport, and who only wanted to get his bags and meet his mother on the other side of the glass. They’ve also tasered an elderly gentleman in a hosptial who was already in restraints, and several teenagers who were in secure custody settings. The use of these weapons seems to be out of control.

    Back on topic, and friend and former police officer told me that in the old days, when someone refused to sign a ticket he would simply write “refused to sign” on it, and ask the person to initial what he wrote. Got them every time :)

    • 0 avatar

      To be honest, they didn’t intend to kill him.

      Also to be honest, the whole sorry escapade was recorded on video and the behaviour of the RCMP was inexcusable. They tazed an unarmed person who was exhibiting symptoms of medical or mental distress but who was very definitely not a threat. What got them is that a) they lied about it, b) closed ranks, c) attempted to smear the fellow and d) ended up looking like thugs when the video footage came out and, basically, proved them all bad liars.

      I don’t think that many police officers have come to terms with the the era of common surveillance (they don’t realize that Little Brother has a million electronic eyes, too) and that you cannot use force, or threat of force, as a compliance tool in a democratic country where someone is likely to have a cellphone camera and forcible compliance is anathaema to said country’s principles.

      I don’t doubt that this kind of thing has been going on for a long time, but just like, say, priests abusing children, it’s no less acceptable or defensible just because of increased transparency. What’s truly disheartening is how readily the management structure around many professions (police, law, medicine, clergy) closes ranks around it’s members when these kinds of things happen.

  • avatar

    Maybe the cops are watching too much COPS ?

    I figured there was more to it than what the article tells us – and there is. Not much more, but a little, and it’s in the decision (pdf).

    Sergeant Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas, and Officer
    Donald Jones (collectively “the Officers”) appeal the district
    court’s denial of the Officers’ motion for summary judgment
    on Malaika Brooks’s § 1983 and state law claims. Brooks had
    sued the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department
    (“SPD”) and its chief, as well as the Officers, based on the
    Officers’ alleged excessive force when they tased her three
    times to effect her arrest. The district court denied the Officers’
    motion for summary judgment,1 finding that they were
    not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. The Officers
    challenge that denial. This court has jurisdiction pursuant
    to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse.


    On November 23, 2004, SPD Officer Juan Ornelas stopped
    Brooks for speeding in a school zone.2 The situation deteriorated
    rather quickly. Brooks claimed she had not been speeding, took her driver’s license out of Officer Ornelas’s ticket
    book and only reluctantly gave it back, and then repeatedly
    refused to sign a Notice of Infraction (“Notice”) regarding her
    speeding violation.3 When SPD Officer Jones arrived at the
    scene, Officer Ornelas told him that Brooks had refused to
    sign the Notice and was being uncooperative. Officer Jones
    tried to obtain her signature himself, but Brooks also refused
    his entreaties, despite assurances that signing was not tantamount
    to admitting the violation. She accused Officer Jones
    of lying to her about the import of signing,4 suggested he was
    being racist, and became upset, repeating “I’m not signing,
    I’m not signing” over and over. Throughout, she remained in
    the car with the ignition running.
    3The Notice of Infraction gives notice that a traffic law has been violated

    Officer Ornelas then called his supervisor, SPD Sergeant
    Daman. When Sergeant Daman arrived, Brooks continued to
    refuse to sign the Notice. Sergeant Daman then asked her “if
    [she] was going to sign the ticket.” When she refused, he told
    Officers Ornelas and Jones to “[b]ook her.” They attempted
    to follow those orders.

    Brooks refused to leave her car, remaining in it with the
    ignition running and her door shut. Officer Jones then showed
    Brooks his Taser, explaining that it would hurt “extremely
    bad” if applied. Brooks told them she was pregnant and that
    she needed to use the restroom. The officers discussed where
    to tase her, deciding on her thigh. Officer Jones demonstrated
    the Taser for her. Brooks still remained in the car, so Officer
    Ornelas opened the door and reached over to take the key out
    of the ignition, dropping the keys on the floorboard.5
    Officer Ornelas then employed a pain compliance technique,
    bringing Brooks’s left arm up behind her back, whereon Brooks stiffened her body and clutched the steering wheel in order to frustrate her removal from the car. Officer Jones discharged the Taser against Brooks’s thigh, through her sweat pants, which caused Brooks “tremendous pain.” She began to yell and honk the car’s horn.
    Within the next minute, Officer Jones tased her two more against her shoulder and neck, the latter being the only
    area of exposed skin. Brooks was unable to get out of the car
    herself during this time because her arm was still behind her
    back.6 The third tasing moved Brooks to the right, at which
    point Officers Ornelas and Jones were able to extract her from the car through a combination of pushing and pulling. She
    was immediately seen by medical professionals, and two
    months later delivered a healthy baby.
    Brooks was charged with (1) violation of Seattle Municipal
    Code 11.59.090 for refusing to sign the Notice, and (2) resisting
    arrest. She was convicted of the first charge, but the jury
    hung on the second, which was later dismissed.

    So, apparently she called one officer a racist, took her license back from the cop before he gave it back, refused to sign, and refused to get out of the car.

    The solution is simple – fire the three Bozo cops.

    There was no need for an arrest. She posed no danger except that the car was running. Officers should have asked her to turn off the ignition. One cop later reached in and turned off the car, but by that time they’d made the decision to arrest her.
    At no point is it claimed that the woman threatened or attempted to drive off.

    She got mouthy, and was non-compliant – in a way that simply did not matter as the tickets are “good” w/o the signature.

    These three Bozos are incompetent to work Mall Security, much less be peace officers. Fire them.

    The decision doesn’t make clear the races involved, but I’m guessing the woman was a minority and the cops were white.

  • avatar

    “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.

  • avatar

    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?

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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