9th Circuit, Cars, Police, Pregnancy / Paternity, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Violence, Women's Issues

How Many Times Can You Tase a Pregnant Woman Before Your Case Winds Up Before the Supreme Court?

How would you define excessive force? There doesn’t seem to be a precise definition, if only because it’s a matter of legalese. Generally speaking, the police shouldn’t be using force beyond what is called for under the circumstances, which is a somewhat subjective test.

We’ll lob you a softball so you can decide the answers to these important questions. Can you use a Taser on a pregnant woman? How many times can you do it? Once? Twice? Three times?

Now, if your initial reaction was something like, “Holy sh*t! Who does that?,” you must be thinking that the police would be crazy to tase a pregnant woman — especially a pregnant woman who’s two months away from her due date. She’d have to have done something egregious to warrant the use of such force.

But that’s not what happened to a pregnant woman in Washington who received the punishment for a mere traffic violation. And the police officers who inflicted her pain want to take the case to the United States Supreme Court….

Next week, the members of the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear an appeal from the Ninth Circuit on the issue of excessive force. In the Ninth Circuit, a majority of the en banc court concluded that excessive force was used by the police in this case. The New York Times has the details:

The case involves Malaika Brooks, who was seven months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle when she was pulled over for speeding. The police say she was going 32 miles per hour in a school zone; the speed limit was 20.

Ms. Brooks said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time. Ms. Brooks thought, wrongly, that signing was an acknowledgment of guilt.

Refusing to sign was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest Ms. Brooks. She would not get out of her car.

When Brooks refused to get out of the car, Officer Juan M. Ornelas displayed his Taser and asked Brooks if she knew what it was. Brooks claimed she did not; instead, she told Officer Ornelas the following: “I am pregnant. I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”

But according to their petition for certiorari, the police didn’t buy Brooks’s story — they just thought she was fat. And apparently it’s a-okay to tase overweight women, whether or not they’re pregnant:

But Brooks didn’t need to go on a diet. She needed to pop out a baby. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the police from tasing her three times — once in the thigh, once in the arm, and once in the neck. The Ninth Circuit ruled that while the police had used excessive force, they had immunity from Brooks’s claims.

So why are the police appealing to the Supreme Court? After all, they ultimately won the case. According to the ABA Journal, they argue in their cert petition that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the excessive force issue “effectively strips officers of the authority to use any pain compliance technique to control an actively resisting arrestee.”

That’s a really broad reading of the ruling. The “resisting arrestee” here was a pregnant woman — a woman who was “especially vulnerable,” according to Michael F. Williams, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, which represents Brooks. Are the police asking for permission to tase pregnant women for minor infractions? Because really, how often do pregnant women commit crimes that warrant the use of a Taser?

In all honesty, it sounds like the police are overly eager to create a situation where a pregnant woman is forced to scream, “Don’t tase my baby, bro!” And that’s just sad.

A Ticket, 3 Taser Jolts and, Perhaps, a Trip to the Supreme Court [New York Times]
Supreme Court to Consider Cert Grant in Case of Officers Who Tasered a Pregnant Woman [ABA Journal]

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