9th Cir: Tasing Pregnant Women Not Okay

The ongoing case of a Seattle woman who was repeatedly tased while seven-months pregnant entered a new phase after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the police used excessive force and that their actions violated the Constitution’s protection from unreasonable force. However the police officers who repeatedly tased her for not signing a speeding ticket during a 2004 traffic stop cannot be sued in federal court because the law governing Taser use was unclear at the time.

Malaika Brooks was taking her son to school when officers clocked her Dodge Intrepid doing 32 mph in a 20-mph school zone. The officers motioned her over and wrote her a ticket, but she refused to sign it despite the officers explaining that it did not mean she was admitting guilt. Brooks believed she could accept a ticket without signing for it, which she claimed she had done once before. The officers called their supervisor who told them to arrest the visibly pregnant woman if she refused to sign the ticket. After she continued to refuse, officers struggled to get her out of the car as she held onto the steering wheel. To prompt her compliance, officers tased her once in the thigh and, seeing no clear effect, twice in the neck with 50,000 volts. She was taken to the ground, handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. At the station medics recommended she be evaluated at a hospital. Thankfully, she delivered a healthy baby girl.

At her criminal trial, Brooks was charged with refusing to obey an officer and resisting arrest. She was found guilty of the first for not signing the ticket, but the jury could not decide whether she resisted arrest, the reason she was tased.

Brooks brought a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim and enjoyed an initial victory at the trial court level before the question was appealed to an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. The majority concluded that Brooks’ traffic violation was not serious and that she never posed a serious threat to the officers. While she bore “some responsibility for the escalation of this incident,” the judges considered two “overwhelmingly salient” factors that weighed in Brooks’ favor: She had told the officers she was within 60 days of delivering her baby, and that after learning of this, the officers took time to discuss how they should proceed and even where they should apply the Taser.

However, in the decision, the court said the officers weren’t liable in the civil suits filed against them because the law governing Taser use was not clearly established at the time of Brooks’ 2004 arrest. Six months after her incident, Seattle adopted a new policy on Taser use informing officers to be extra careful with pregnant women and be sure that “the need to stop the behavior should clearly justify the potential for additional risks.”

The 9th Circuit did not leave Brooks totally without recourse, affirming “that the officers are not entitled to Washington state qualified immunity for Brooks’s assault and battery claim,” leaving open an action in state court.

(photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taser-x26.jpg)


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  • Hola Bobak!

    Interesting case, I’m reviewing it for my firm. I particularly like Kozinski’s final comment where he says the police should be given a medal and a cash bonus:

    “The officers were entitled to take precautions for their own safety and that of others. Had they been less vigilant, Brooks might well have driven off and run over one of the children in the school zone. The officers were entirely right in refusing to take that risk. If the City awards them a commendation, as I suggest it should, I hope it carries a substantial cash bonus for safeguarding the lives and safety of innocent children.”

    • Hi Erick!

      Kozinski does have a bit of fun with his writing, most notably his final line in the “Barbie Girl” case (Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc.):

      “The parties are advised to chill.”

  • Repeat after me: “tasing pregnant women is not a good idea.” I want to say “Well, duh,” but it seems redundant.

  • sunny

    How about charging her with child endangerment. Just because she was pregnant doesn’t mean she is above the law. All she had to do was sign the damn ticket and could have gone on her way.

    • Robert

      32 mph in a school zone is hardly child endangerment. In most states the speed limit is 25mph, which 32 is not excessively above. The officers were way out of line; they put her at risk of losing her child over a speeding ticket. She is not responsible for their lack of restraint in excessive force. Even if she knew they were going to use force, it is not her duty to submit to threats of physical force simply because she is in a vulnerable position. Furthermore, the use of force must be proportional to the danger that she poses, which as a pregnant women is comparatively low to the risk of aborting or harming an 7-8 mo fetus.

  • Namvet68

    cops suck.

  • Robert

    Here’s a question people should ponder, how much time is sufficient for an arrest? That is what is really going on here. The officer impatient about how much time he was using to resolve an issue with a citizen, decided to use torture compliance techniques and force immediate compliance.
    The officer replied, I was too lazy to wait and felt the woman’s and child’s safety was far less important than my time.
    So how much time should an officer spend negotiating an arrest, when the person is not attempting to escape.
    I have to say paid public servant, should be willing to spend at least an hour before torturing someone, perhaps even a full eight hour shift.
    If you have the persons details and you have identified them and the arrest has nothing to do with protecting the public from the actions of the person but rather to inflate the ego of the policeman, why arrest them at all?
    Too often resorting to violence seems to have more to do with the officers ego and unwillingness to spend more time conducting the arrest because of a desire to what, get back to air conditioned space and sucking down coffee and doughnuts.

  • ken Houghton

    Sick Cops…… tasering a 8 month pregnant woman who had her 11 year old son with her, outside a school….. for refusing to sign for speeding 32 miles an hour. What the hell do we pay these sadists for? if this is justice? …….we are all FUCKED!