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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Tasering pregnant women okay by Supreme Court

Friday, June 8, 2012

Once again, the United States Supreme Court has proven Clarence Darrow, a civil liberties attorney and long-time advocate for the Constitution, correct in his assertion that "there is no such thing as justice--in or out of court." The Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case of a pregnant woman who was repeatedly tasered by Seattle police during a routine traffic stop simply because she refused to sign a speeding ticket.

Malaika Brooks, 33 and seven months pregnant, was driving her 11-year-old son to school in November 2004, when she was pulled over for driving 32 mph in a 20 mph school zone. Malaika handed over her driver's license to Officer Juan Ornelas for processing. However, when instructed to sign the speeding ticket, which the state inexplicably requires, Malaika declared that she wished to contest the charge, insisting that she had not done anything wrong and fearing that signing the ticket would signify an admission of guilt.

Rather than issuing a verbal warning to the clearly pregnant (and understandably emotional) woman, Officer Ornelas called for backup. Officer Donald Jones subsequently arrived and told Brooks to sign the ticket. Again she refused. The conversation became heated. The cops called in more backup. The next to arrive was Sergeant Steven Daman, who directed Brooks to sign the ticket, pointing out that if she failed to do so, she would be arrested and taken to jail. Again, Malaika refused.

On orders from Sgt. Daman, Ornelas ordered a distraught Brooks to get out of the car, telling her she was "going to jail." Malaika refused, and the second cop, Jones, responded by pulling out his taser electro-shock weapon, asking her if she knew what it was and warning her it would be used on her if she continued to resist. Brooks told him "No," and then said, "I have to go to the bathroom, I am pregnant, I'm less than 60 days from having my baby."

The officers opened the car door, twisted one of her arms behind her back, as as Brooks clung to her steering while, the officers tasered her repeatedly until she fell out of the car.

Malaika Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby girl two months after the altercation, but she bears permanent burn scars on her body where she was tasered by police. She sued the arresting officers, charging them with use of excessive force and violating her constitutional rights.

The Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals recognized that Malaika posed no threat to anyone, nor did she pose a physical threat to the officers, that none of her offenses were serious, and that officers clearly used "excessive force" against her. The justices nonetheless granted qualified immunity to the officers--a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court ostensibly upheld when it refused to hear the case.

In doing so, the courts have essentially given police carte blanche authority when it comes to using tasers against American citizens.

Indeed, this case highlights a growing trend in which police officers use tasers to force individuals into compliance in relatively non-threatening situations. Originally designed to restrain violent criminals, tasers are now used with impunity against individuals who pose no bodily harm to the police.

What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control over the populace through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace--laws carried out by a police force hired to do the government's bidding.

John W. Whitehead is founder of the Rutherford Foundation.

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