Taser Pain May Be Considered by Supreme Court as Excessive Force

PHOTO: Malaika Brooks was seven months pregnant when police used a stun gun on her for a traffic violation.
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The Seattle police officers say they chose one of the safest tools in their arsenal when they used a Taser gun against a pregnant woman resisting arrest.

Before using the device one officer asked, "Well where do you want to do it?" according to court papers. Another counseled, "Well, don't do it in her stomach, do it in her thigh."

The woman, who was 60 days from her due date, was tased three times in less than a minute.

A lawyer for the woman says the officers used excessive force.

"The officers put thousands of volts of electricity through my client causing her tremendous pain," says Michael F. Williams of Kirkland and Ellis. "The concept that officers can cause tremendous pain on a suspect over a trivial offense is completely alien to our Constitution."

On Thursday, the Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors and discuss whether to take up the issue.

The case stems from a 2004 traffic stop. Malaika Brooks was pulled over by Officer Juan Ornelas who informed her that she was going 32 miles per hour in a 20 miles per hour school zone. He issued a speeding violation.

Court papers describe the following scenario:

Brooks denied that she had been speeding and said she would not sign the citation because she believed that her signature would amount to an admission of guilt. Ornelas told her that she was mistaken, but that her failure to sign would subject her to arrest under state law. She continued to refuse to sign. Eventually two other officers came to the scene, Brooks was told she was under arrest, and she was ordered out of the car. Again, she refused to get out of the car.

"I have to go to the bathroom, I am pregnant, I'm less than 60 days from having my baby," she told the officers. The officers told her if she did not obey orders, she would be subject to the taser device. They then conferred about using the taser on a pregnant woman.

In court papers the officers say they knew from training and experience that the use of the taser in drive-stun mode (where a charge is delivered through two blunt contact probes) would provide localized pain without risk of lasting physical injury and that it would have no adverse effect on a pregnant woman.

Eventually Officer Ornelas opened the driver's side door, and twisted Brooks' arm up behind her back . Officer Donald Jones applied the taser to Brooks' left thigh at which point she shouted and honked the horn, but continued to refuse to get out. Thirty-six seconds later he applied it to her left arm, and six seconds later he applied it to her neck.

Finally, the officers managed to drag her out and handcuff her. She was seen by a doctor before she was taken to King County Jail. Brooks was eventually convicted for failing to sign a speeding ticket.

Her healthy baby girl was born in January 2005 and she sued the police officers for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

Last year a federal appeals court sided with Brooks in ruling that her claims constituted a constitutional violation.

"A reasonable fact-finder could conclude, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Brooks, that the officers' use of force was unreasonable and therefore constitutionally excessive," the majority of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held. The court said her alleged offenses were minor, she did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and that the officers inflicted extreme pain on her while she was seven months pregnant.

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