Pregnant Woman Tasered for Refusing to Sign Speeding Ticket

Update:  City of Seattle,  Washington,  U.S.A

A seven (7) month pregnant woman, who was driving her 11 year old son to school, was pulled over by Seattle Police who accused Ms. Brooks of travelling 32 mph in a school zone with a posed speed of 20 mph. The police officer who accused her of speeding, asked her to sign the ticket which he had generated. Ms. Brooks refused to sign the ticket and Police informed her that if she didn’t sign the ticket that they would arrest her (Ms. Brooks had had a similar experience in the past and although technically she could have been arrested for refusing to sign tickets, in that prior experience, the arresting officer called her supervisor, who instructed the officer simply to give Brooks both tickets and allow her to leave).  She still refused to sign the ticket and that is when police showed her their taser. She explained to them that she was pregnant and needed to go to the bathroom. Police decided to take the keys out of the ignition of her vehicle, place her left arm behind her back and then taser her three (3) times. Given the fact that she was pregnant, Police decided to taser her in the thigh, the arm and the neck, avoiding her stomach. She was arrested for failing to sign the citation and for for obstructing a police officer in the exercise of his official duties. She was later told by her doctor that the scar caused on her left arm by the tasering would likely be permanent.

As a result of this incident, Ms. Brooks decided to sue the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department and the three (3)  individual police officers for the use of excessive force when they tased her three times to effect her arrest.  The district court (through the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington Richard A. Jones, District Judge, the presiding Judge ) denied the Officers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that they were not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. The City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department and three (3) individual officers involved in the tasering, appealed the decision of Judge Jones, the District Judge.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that the officers did not use excessive force.  Here is the decision and excerpts from that decision:

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

MALAIKA BROOKS,
Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CITY OF SEATTLE,
Defendant,
and

STEVEN L. DAMAN, in his capacity as an officer of the Seattle Police
Department; DONALD M. JONES, in
his individual capacity as an
officer of the Seattle Police
Department; JUAN M. ORNELAS, in
his individual capacity as an
officer of the Seattle Police
Department,
Defendants-Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Western District of Washington
Richard A. Jones, District Judge, Presiding
Argued and Submitted
July 10, 2009—Seattle, Washington
Filed March 26, 2010
Before: Cynthia Holcomb Hall, Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain,
and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges.
Opinion by Judge Hall;
Dissent by Judge Berzon

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, 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.

This is how the Court of Appeal summarized the backgrond (see decision ):

Malaika Brooks was driving her eleven-year-old son to school at the African American Academy ( 8311 Beacon Ave S Seattle, WA 98118, USA ) when she was stopped for speeding in a school zone (the ticket reports that she was driving 32 miles per hour, while the posted speed limit was 20 miles per hour). She gave the officer her license and told her son to get out of the car and go to school. The officer, Officer Ornelas, prepared a notice of infraction and asked Brooks to sign it. Convinced it was not she, but the driver in front of her who had been speeding, Brooks told Officer Ornelas she would not sign the ticket because she did not want to admit fault. She also grabbed her driver’s license from Officer Ornelas but gave it back after he told her he still needed it.

The other officer on the scene, Officer Jones, then also asked Brooks to sign the ticket. She told him she would accept the ticket but would not sign it, because she had not been speeding. They began to argue: Officer Jones told Brooks that signing the ticket was not an admission of guilt and asked whether she could read. Brooks told Officer Jones that she believed, based on past experience, that he was lying about what it meant to sign the ticket, and that he was racist for suggesting she could not read (Several years earlier, Brooks had been cited for disregarding a stop sign displayed by a school bus. Believing she was not guilty, Brooks refused to sign the notice of infraction. She was then issued a criminal citation for refusing to sign the notice; she also refused to sign the criminal citation. The arresting officer called her supervisor, who instructed the officer simply to give Brooks both tickets and allow her to leave).

The Officers allege that they also issued Brooks a criminal citation and notice to appear because she would not sign thenotice of infraction and that she refused to sign that as well. Brooks maintains she was only asked to sign the notice of infraction. For purposes of this appeal, we are required to view the facts in the light most favorable to Brooks, the nonmoving party, and so, as the majority recognizes, must assume she was never asked to sign a criminal citation.

Officer Jones told Brooks she would have to go to jail if she did not sign the ticket. He called his sergeant, Sergeant Daman, who soon arrived on the scene.4 Sergeant Daman asked Brooks whether she would sign the ticket. When she would not, he instructed Officers Ornelas and Jones to “book her.” In response, Officer Ornelas told Brooks to get out of the car. She refused. Officer Jones then produced his Taser. He yelled at Brooks, asking her if she knew what the Taser was, how many volts it had, and what it could do to her. She told him she did not. She also told him that she was seven months pregnant and needed to use the restroom.

Brooks was detained for refusing to sign her name on the Notice. The Officers were attempting to take her into custody for refusing to sign the Citation to Appear (albeit erroneously,under the facts as Brooks states them). Neither of these crimes were serious. As discussed above, see supra Part III.A.1, Brooks’s behavior also gave the Officers probable cause to arrest her under Washington Revised Code § 9A.76.020 (1) for obstructing a police officer in the exercise of his official duties.

Officers Ornelas and Jones began discussing where on Brooks’s body they should use the Taser. Up to this point, Brooks’s car was still running, but now Officer Ornelas reached inside, turned off the ignition, and dropped the keys on the floorboard. Brooks continued to refuse to get out of the car: she gripped the steering wheel, braced her legs against the floor, and yelled for help. Officer Ornelas pulled Brooks’s left arm up behind her back and held it there while Officer Jones activated his Taser against her body three times: once on her thigh, once on her left arm, and once on her bare neck.

While the voltage was inflicted Brooks was unable to get out of the car, as Officer Ornelas was still holding her arm behind her back. She experienced “tremendous pain,” screamed for help, and, instinctively, honked her horn.

After using the Taser for the third time, the Officers dragged Brooks from her car and laid her on her stomach in the street. She continued yelling for help and told the Officers they were hurting her stomach. They held her down until they had handcuffed her; then they walked her to the patrol car and drove her to the police station.

The Taser left burn marks on Brooks’s thigh, arm, and neck. She has scars on her thigh and upper arm. Her doctor has told her that the scar on her arm is likely permanent.

There is no doubt that Ms. Brooks Counsel, Mr. Eric Zubel, PC, Seattle, Washington will challenge this latest ruling in hopes of having it overturned and re-instating the original decision of District Judge, Richard A. Jones.

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One thoughtful comment

  1. 1. Why do people have to sign a ticket? In other countries, it is not required and the system still works. I certainly feel like that’s the same as admitting guilt.

    2. Using a taser on a person is a form of torture. When and why have we (the people and taxpayers) accepted the use of tasers in our society? The truth is the people have never had a voice on this matter.

    Now, tasing a pregnant woman is taking things to a totally new level of immorality and indecency.

    3. Police officers were able to do their jobs without tasers in the past. There is obviously no need for them today. We, the people, must get together and get rid of these tools of torture. There is no room for them in our society, and we shouldn’t tolerate them at all.

    “To Serve and Protect” or “To Condemn and Torture”? Seriously… Our Police forces need to revise their slogans.

    4. Your voice is important. Sign petitions and call your governmental representatives. Together we can put an end to this non-sense.

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