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Ruling OK's Tasering Pregnant Woman Three Times

Seven-months-pregnant Malaika Brooks suffered repeated 50,000 volt shocks for refusing to sign a speeding ticket, and a federal court of appeals ruled it justified.

You are a police officer on traffic patrol and you pull over an irate driver who refuses to admit she was doing 32 mph in a 20-mph zone. She won't sign the speeding ticket, not even when you call for backup. Also, she is pregnant. What do you do?

a) Finish writing the ticket, making note of the fact that the driver refused to sign, and send her on her way, perhaps admonishing her in the process.

b) Grab the keys from the ignition, tase her three times, force her out of her car, and arrest her.

In the minds of three Seattle police officers in 2004, the latter was the reasonable course of action when they stopped seven-months-pregnant Malaika Brooks -- and last week, a federal appeals court agreed.

In a 2-1 ruling, Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the officers were justified in their use of force, because of the threat that Brooks might somehow "retrieve the keys and drive off erratically," and because the third tasing allowed the officers to "finally extract her from her car and gain control over her."

"Police officers have to have the ability to compel people to obey their lawful orders," Ted Buck, a lawyer for the police officers, said following the ruling.

The decision was met with outrage -- not the least of which came from the dissenting judge in the case, Judge Marsha Berzon, whose opinion reminded the court that, after Brooks was tased, "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," she wrote.

"I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense."

Writing about the case, Digby, who often blogs about Tasers, argued: "What these judges seem to be saying is that there is no lawful reason that an officer cannot taser a citizen as long as he is barking some order and they fail to comply quickly enough.....hat's scary."

'How Pregnant Are You?'

Two days before Thanksgiving, in 2004, Malaika Brooks was rushing to drop off her son at school at the African American Academy in Seattle, when she was pulled over speeding in a school zone. Her son got out of the car and headed for school; meanwhile, Brooks, seven months pregnant and stressed out, told the officer she was not speeding and refused to sign her name to the ticket.

The police officer, Juan Ornelas, was joined by his partner, Ofc. Donald Jones, who threatened Brooks with arrest if she did not sign the ticket. When she still refused, they called for backup; Sergeant Steven Daman pulled up, ordering the officers to arrest her.

According to court documents, "initial attempts to arrest Ms. Brooks were unsuccessful." They tried to forcibly remove her from the car using a "pain compliance hold" -- twisting her arm up behind her back -- but she "stiffened her body and clutched her steering wheel."

"Ofc. Jones then brandished a taser and threatened to use it on Ms. Brooks," according to court documents. "He 'yelled' at her, and asked her if she knew 'how many volts' the taser had."

"I also informed Brooks that the taser was fifty thousand volts and that the taser was going to hurt extremely bad if applied," Jones said in a statement.

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