Readers react to police use of Taser on pregnant driver
Responses divided on whether officers' action was justified
Seattle Post-Intelligencer | May 13, 2005
|When two Seattle police officers and their sergeant decided to arrest a motorist who refused to sign a ticket, the result was a confrontation that only ended after one officer applied a Taser to the woman, who was eight months pregnant at the time.
Malaika Brooks, the motorist involved, was convicted last week in Seattle Municipal Court of failing to obey a police officer because she did not sign the ticket. The same jury was not able to agree on whether she actually resisted arrest, which is the reason officers say they used a Taser to arrest her.
Her sentencing is set for Wednesday. The Seattle chapter of the NAACP has announced it plans to file a complaint with the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability.
A story reporting the incident in Tuesday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer drew strong reactions from readers, who responded with more than 150 e-mails.
Most chose a side, saying Brooks should have signed the ticket, or the officers overreacted to the situation.
"Wouldn't a responsible adult sign the ticket, or, when it was obvious she was going to be arrested ... get out of the car?" wrote one Fox Island resident, expressing a common sentiment.
But nearly as many wrote comments such as this one: "The cops you mentioned should be instantly unemployed and permanently cut off the dole of the taxpayers. We really don't need any more cowboys with new toys in career positions that they most obviously cannot intellectually or emotionally negotiate. We have more than enough 'loose cannons' out there on the wrong side of the law without giving those sworn to uphold the law the right to Taser pregnant women over a trifle. Insanity!"
Here is a sample of what some other readers had to say:
"Thank you for the informative article. Please stay on this topic. I value civil rights in this country and I am appalled by the growing number of these Taser attacks on our citizenry. From 6-year-old children to pregnant women speeding, we are all potential victims of the Taser. These are police-state tactics and they need to be exposed by the free press in this country."
"The police should be held accountable for going over the top. I think that there will be a movement to exclude that and other shock devices as a means to subdue perps. ... I think some cops see themselves as sheepdogs and bite sheep (people) at will to make them fearful and obedient."
-- Gib Connor, Kennesaw, Ga.
"So once again, a person not being responsible for their (her) actions. She'll sue and get money, when she chose to be belligerent.
"Any suggestions on how I can change all of society with one more e-mail?"
-- Rob Danforth
"I hope the pregnant woman sues the pants off the Seattle Police Department. The police overreacted."
-- Joe Lobosco, East Greenbush, N.Y.
"It appears a couple of things got lost in our zeal to hammer the police. First, signing the citation is a personal assurance the offender will show up in court to pay the ticket, enter a plea of not guilty or whatever. If she declined to sign, that means she is not giving her word to respond to the court. What would you have done if you had been the cop?"
-- Bob Sherrill
"I read your story with great interest, what an outrage. ... This kind of behavior is unacceptable in a free country."
-- Paul Simon
"Here's the thing: Why didn't she just sign? If she had, there would have been NO confrontation. She says that they could have hurt her unborn fetus, when it boils down to it, this is a woman, regardless of her physical state, that apparently doesn't care about what could have happened to her baby ... otherwise, she would have signed and had her day in court!"
"I am horrified that an officer would use a Taser on a pregnant woman. My wife is black and I am white, so I am very sensitive to racial issues and can somewhat relate to how black people are treated and when I clicked on the link to your article. While I was waiting for your article to load I thought to myself, 'The woman must be black because an officer would never do that to a white woman.' And sure enough the victim is black. That officer and his department should be ashamed and I hope she files a civil action."
-- John Prestage, Stamford, Conn.
"Most rational people will sign a ticket, and if they feel it's unwarranted, fight it in court. What makes her think she should deserve special treatment? It's disgusting! What ever happened to common sense? I hope the officer is not reprimanded. If you ask me, he should be given a citation with a raise."
"I just read your report on the pregnant lady that was Tasered for not signing a ticket, then they try to 'arrest her' for not signing the ticket! Then they Tasered her for not getting out of her car, so they could arrest her!
"It gives me the chills. I am a married mother of two, age 50 and I can see that our police department, while trying to protect themselves, which I do understand, are acting like a police state, where if you don't do as they say, no matter what they say, they will hurt you! What the hell is going on? ... What an awful state we are in!"
-- Susan, Hopkinton, Mass.
"Convenient the way you failed to mention that failure to sign a citation is a crime. How about the fact that she knowingly placed her fetus in danger by refusing to step from the vehicle. While a Taser may have been extreme on a pregnant woman, the culpability clearly lies with the woman by her actions. By claiming to have previously received a citation without signing it clearly shows she lacks any credibility and by publishing this story, you have none either."
-- Ed McKenna
"Was the woman who was eight months pregnant too fast of a runner for the policeman? Anyone with half a brain should know that this was certainly excessive force."
Police used Taser on pregnant driver
Woman convicted of refusing to obey Seattle officers
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER | May 10, 2005
By HECTOR CASTRO
She was rushing her son to school. She was eight months pregnant. And she was about to get a speeding ticket she didn't think she deserved.
So when a Seattle police officer presented the ticket to Malaika Brooks, she refused to sign it. In the ensuing confrontation, she suffered burns from a police Taser, an electric stun device that delivers 50,000 volts.
"Probably the worst thing that ever happened to me," Brooks said, in describing that morning during her criminal trial last week on charges of refusing to obey an officer and resisting arrest.
She was found guilty of the first charge because she never signed the ticket, but the Seattle Municipal Court jury could not decide whether she resisted arrest, the reason the Taser was applied.
To her attorneys and critics of police use of Tasers, Brooks' case is an example of police overreaction.
"It's pretty extraordinary that they should have used a Taser in this case," said Lisa Daugaard, a public defender familiar with the case.
Law enforcement officers have said they see Tasers as a tool that can benefit the public by reducing injuries to police and the citizens they arrest.
Seattle police officials declined to comment on this case, citing concerns that Brooks might file a civil lawsuit.
But King County sheriff's Sgt. Donald Davis, who works on the county's Taser policy, said the use of force is a balancing act for law enforcement.
"It just doesn't look good to the public," he said.
Brooks' run-in with police Nov. 23 came six months before Seattle adopted a new policy on Taser use that guides officers on how to deal with pregnant women, the very young, the very old and the infirm. When used on such subjects, the policy states, "the need to stop the behavior should clearly justify the potential for additional risks."
"Obviously, (law enforcement agencies) don't want to use a Taser on young children, pregnant woman or elderly people," Davis said. "But if in your policy you deliberately exclude a segment of the population, then you have potentially closed off a tool that could have ended a confrontation."
Brooks was stopped in the 8300 block of Beacon Avenue South, just outside the African American Academy, while dropping her son off for school.
In a two-day trial that ended Friday, the officer involved, Officer Juan Ornelas, testified he clocked Brooks' Dodge Intrepid doing 32 mph in a 20-mph school zone.
He motioned her over and tried to write her a ticket, but she wouldn't sign it, even when he explained that signing it didn't mean she was admitting guilt.
Brooks, in her testimony, said she believed she could accept a ticket without signing for it, which she had done once before.
"I said, 'Well, I'll take the ticket, but I won't sign it,' " Brooks testified.
Officer Donald Jones joined Ornelas in trying to persuade Brooks to sign the ticket. They then called on their supervisor, Sgt. Steve Daman.
He authorized them to arrest her when she continued to refuse.
The officers testified they struggled to get Brooks out of her car but could not because she kept a grip on her steering wheel.
And that's when Jones brought out the Taser.
Brooks testified she didn't even know what it was when Jones showed it to her and pulled the trigger, allowing her to hear the crackle of 50,000 volts of electricity.
The officers testified that was meant as a final warning, as a way to demonstrate the device was painful and that Brooks should comply with their orders.
When she still did not exit her car, Jones applied the Taser.
In his testimony, the Taser officer said he pressed the prongs of the muzzle against Brooks' thigh to no effect. So he applied it twice to her exposed neck.
Afterward, he and the others testified, Ornelas pushed Brooks out of the car while Jones pulled.
She was taken to the ground, handcuffed and placed in a patrol car, the officers testified.
She told jurors the officer also used the device on her arm, and showed them a dark, brown burn to her thigh, a large, red welt on her arm and a lump on her neck, all marks she said came from the Taser application.
At the South Precinct, Seattle fire medics examined Brooks, confirmed she was pregnant and recommended she be evaluated at Harborview Medical Center.
Brooks said she was worried about the effect the trauma and the Taser might have on her baby, but she delivered a healthy girl Jan. 31.
Still, she said, she remains shocked that a simple traffic stop could result in her arrest.
"As police officers, they could have hurt me seriously. They could have hurt my unborn fetus," she said.
"All because of a traffic ticket. Is this what it's come down to?"
Davis said Tasers remain a valuable tool, and that situations like Brooks' are avoidable.
"I know the Taser is controversial in all these situations where it seems so egregious," he said. "Why use a Taser in a simple traffic stop? Well, the citizen has made it more of a problem. It's no longer a traffic stop. This is now a confrontation."