5/30/2012US Supreme Court Will Not Review Tasering of Pregnant Motorist
Federal ruling granting officers immunity for tasering a pregnant woman over a speeding ticket will stand.
The nation's highest court decided yesterday it would not re-open the case of a pregnant woman tasered three times by Seattle, Washington police over a minor speeding infraction. The US Supreme Court denied the request of Officers Steven L. Daman, Juan Ornelas and Donald M. Jones who sought to overturn the March 2010 decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the officers used excessive force on November 23, 2004 (view opinion).
That finding leaves officers vulnerable to a state suit, but motorist Malaika Brooks was equally upset with the appellate court's finding that the officers were immune from liability for their actions.
On that morning eight years ago, Brooks allegedly was driving 32 MPH when dropping off her eleven-year-old son to the African-American Academy elementary school. Brooks did not believe she had violated any law, and she mistakenly thought signing a speeding citation would amount to an admission of guilt. The officers warned that she must sign, and when she repeatedly refused, they tasered her. The Ninth Circuit found this was a Fourth Amendment violation but that the officers had no way of knowing that in advance.
"The court held that the absence of any reported federal precedent condemning the use of Tasers in connection with routine traffic stops meant that Ms. Brooks' Fourth Amendment rights were not clearly established at the time of the violation," Brooks' attorney wrote in a cross-petition to the Supreme Court. "But to state this proposition is to refute it, as it should be obvious to any reasonable official that a police officer may not, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, deploy a Taser against a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy, who poses no threat to the officers or the public, simply because the woman refused to sign a speeding ticket."
Attorneys for the officers argued that this muddled decision offers no clarity for cops seeking guidance on what conduct is and is not acceptable. They argued the tasering in the case at hand was the safest option for all involved.
"Plaintiff was a large (230 pounds), strong woman and the officers recognized that trying to manually extract her from the car presented a risk of injury to her and themselves," the officers stated in their petition to the Supreme Court. "To avoid that risk, the officers considered alternatives. They decided to use a Taser in drive-stun mode, a device that the officers knew from training and experience provides a localized pain compliance option without risk of lasting physical injury."
The Los Angeles County Police Chiefs' Association, National Tactical Officers Association and three other local police unions urged the high court to reject Brooks' argument. They insisted limiting the use of tasers would inhibit their ability to keep the public safe.
"The petitioner was actively resisting her arrest, and the respondents finally decided that the only way to take her into custody was to use the taser," the unions' lawyer, Steven J. Renick, wrote in a friend of the court brief. "It worked."
Neither side's presentation succeeded in persuading the justices to set aside the Ninth Circuit's findings.