Ms. Brooks was driving her son to school in 2004 when she was stopped for allegedly doing 32 mph in a school zone. When officers told Brooks she could be arrested if she refused to sign the ticket Brooks told the officers that they were lying and were racist. Rather than give her the ticket and let her go on her way, the officers arrested her, physically restrained her by forcing her arm behind her back through her car window, and used a Taser on her three times when she refused to get out of her car. They tasered her in her shoulder, thigh and neck. In light of her being seven months pregnant, the facts of the case are extreme. (To see the Opinion of the Court and read more of the facts, click here).
The 9th Circuit is normally a progressive Court, but the two judges on the panel who voted in favor of the police (Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain), were both appointed by former President Ronald Reagan and are two of the more conservative members of the court. The dissenting judge called the ruling “off-the-wall,” and said the police officers had no authority to arrest Brooks - let alone the authority to use a Taser on a nonthreatening woman who was seven months pregnant. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Seattle, WA.
Since the onset of the use of Tasers here in Houston, Texas, I have seen several clients Tased multiple times. Most of those clients were female and African-American. One 110-pound African-American female client who was charged with two counts of Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer after she allegedly attacked six police officers in her drive way, was Tased six times. The incident was witnessed by her 120-pound, 18 year-old daughter who was also arrested for beating up the six officers. That case, which was ultimately dismissed, was indicative of a systemic problem. A 2008 report co-authored by Rice political scientists Mark Jones and William Reed with colleagues at the University of Houston found patterns and/or aberrations in the use of Tasers related to ethnicity, gender, race and geography.
The report, titled “A Statistical Analysis of the Use of Conducted Energy Devices by the Houston Police Department,” sought to answer several questions about Tasers, also called conducted energy devices or CEDs, including: Who is subject to being shocked by a Taser? What are the demographic characteristics of suspects and officers in these events? And where have these incidents occurred? The study, based on data from December 2004 to June 2007, found Houston police officers were more likely to use Tasers on African-American suspects than on Latino or Anglo suspects. Of 1,417 Taser deployments by officers during that time frame, nearly 67 percent were used on black suspects, the study reported. About 25 percent of Houston's population is black.
In addition to determining the incidence of who was shocked by Tasers, the researchers looked at who was doing the shocking. “African-American officers were significantly less likely to use their CED than Anglo and Latino officers,” the report stated. The report also noted, “Latino suspects were somewhat more likely to be subjected to a CED deployment than Anglo suspects. This difference was modest and driven primarily by the greater tendency of Latino officers to utilize their CED when a suspect was Latino, compared to when the suspect was an Anglo.”
Opposition to unlawful discrimination in any form should always be SUSTAINED! Like all excessive force cases, illegitimate use of Tasers stems from a disregard and devaluation of the life of the citizen encountered by police officers. As the dissent from Ms. Brook's case notes,
“I would conclude that the degree of force used on Brooks was significant. Before Officer Jones used his Taser on Brooks, Officer Ornelas pulled her left arm up behind her back and held it there. That “pain-compliance” hold prevented Brooks from complying with the Officers’ subsequent demands that she get out of her car. While Brooks was thus immobilized, Officer Jones used his Taser on her three times: first he applied it to her thigh, then he “dug it into” her left arm, and finally he deployed it against her bare neck. At least on the second and third uses, Officer Jones cycled the Taser through its full five-second cycle while Brooks screamed for help. Brooks experienced “tremendous pain,” fear, and “shock.” She began crying and instinctively honked her horn. The Officers then dragged Brooks from the car, laid her on her stomach in the street, and held her down while they handcuffed her, despite her protestations that she was pregnant and they were hurting her stomach. The Taser left burn marks on Brooks’s thigh, shoulder, and neck. It also left scars, including a scar on her arm that is probably permanent..... Here, there is “no question that any reasonable officer would have known that the force used was excessive, from an elementary understanding of the obligations of law enforcement officers toward all individuals in the community they serve as well as from a review of the well-established law.” Davis, 478 F.3d at 1056-57. This is not a close case. Any reasonable officer should have known that using a Taser repeatedly on a pregnant woman who had committed a trivial, nonviolent crime and who posed no realistic threat to the safety of others was unlawful. Even if the Officers did irrationally perceive some threat at the time (rather than developing a post-hoc explanation for their behavior), that would not suffice; a reasonable officer would not have seen any danger in the objective circumstances.”
Brooks v. City of Seattle, No. 08-35526 (March 26, 2010), pp. 4950-51, 4961. Unfortunately, some officers are haunted by irrational, nightmarish fears and prejudices towards minority citizens. And Tasers are just another “silver bullet” officers will discriminately use to excise their tendentious demons.