Friday, July 2, 2010

Pregnant Woman Tasered; Her Civil Rights Lawsuit Fails

Pregnant Woman Tasered; Her Civil Rights Lawsuit Fails

A woman 7 months pregnant + a traffic stop for speeding + a heated argument + woman's failure to cooperate with police = being tasered 3 times.  Being tasered 3 times eventually equaled a failed lawsuit against the city and the police department.

Ms. Brooks was 7 months pregnant when she was stopped by multiple police officers in Seattle for speeding in a school zone. She was uncooperative and accused the officers of being racist.  She wound up sitting in her car with the door closed, the window up, and the engine running after she refused to sign the citation (the law requires that the citation be signed, and such signature is not an admission of guilt). While she did so, the officers warned her that she needed to get out of the car or risk being tasered; they also began to discuss where on her body to use the Taser, as they were aware of her pregnant state.

Eventually, one of the officers reached into the car (the door was unlocked?), turned the engine off, and removed the keys from the ignition. They attempted to physically remove her from the car, but she held tightly to the steering wheel and otherwise frustrated these attempts.  The police officers then used the Taser on her thigh, through the sweatpants she was wearing. When this did not result in cooperation, the police then used the Taser against her shoulder, followed by using it against her neck. They were then able to remove her from the car and arrest her (for failure to sign citation and then resisting arrest).

The woman suffered no permanent injuries, and a healthy baby was born a few months later.  Her lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department alleged the use of excessive force, and claimed that this unreasonable use of force caused her to "scream in pain" and be left with permanent burn marks/scars.

Upon a motion for summary judgment, a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, as 2 of the 3 federal judges ruled that the use of force was not unreasonable enough to allow such a lawsuit. The third judge strongly disagreed, and commented "“I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against . . . [her] . . . let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense.”

By way of brief explanation, a "motion for summary judgment" is similar to a motion to dismiss a case; since the defendants were the one making the motion, the court was obligated to accept the facts of the case as presented by the plaintiff (the woman). A court in this situation essentially says to itself "Even taking the facts as told to us only by the one side, are those facts enough to allow that side to prove the lawsuit?" It is difficult to win a motion for summary judgment, as the defendants eventually did in this case.