Cops Using Tasers on Pregnant Women: OK?

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if police officers get to use stun guns indiscriminately.

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Next week the U.S. Supreme Court will be meeting to decide whether to hear an appeal from three Seattle police officers on the future of "a useful pain technique," commonly known as the use of a Taser.

You may recall the case of Malaika Brooks, a woman in the third trimester of her pregnancy, who had Seattle police use a stun gun on her while she was driving her 11-year-old son to school. Brooks was stopped for a moving violation and agreed to accept a ticket but refused to sign it, thinking that it would be an admission of guilt.

Failure to sign a ticket for a moving violation is a crime in Washington, so the police officers placed Brooks under arrest. Brooks refused to get out of the car, telling police officers that she was pregnant and had to use the restroom. Because Brooks posed no immediate threat, the officers actually had time to discuss how to handle the situation.

These three geniuses came up with the idea of applying a Taser to Brooks' leg, arm and finally her neck, at which point she collapsed.

Brooks, who was convicted of refusing to sign the ticket, sued the officers whose use of the stun gun left her with intense pain and permanent scars. The officers won a split decision in October in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The majority believed that the officers used excessive force but could not be sued because the law was unclear at the time of the incident.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said that Brooks had been "defiant" and "deaf to reason," which caused the incident to occur, and that the officers deserved praise and commendations for their actions. Although the officers won the case, the court informed them that "some future use of Tasers would cross a constitutional line and amount to excessive force." The officers appealed the case to the Supreme Court to "clear their names" and preserve their right to "a useful pain technique."

So these police officers, who basically got away with using a Taser on a pregnant woman, now want the Supreme Court to tell them they were right after a circuit court already has? I don't know about you, but I would feel pretty ashamed and embarrassed if I had used a stun gun on a seven-months-pregnant woman over a refusal to sign a ticket.

Instead of hiding their heads in shame, they want to push this case to the Supreme Court, even after the city of Seattle has said there is no reason for the appeal and accepted liablility for injuries incurred during the Brooks incident. So who is being "defiant" and "deaf to reason"?

The police officers couldn't think of any other way to address the issue? Yes, Brooks was defiant, but she posed no danger to the police officers, and she was pregnant. What is the likelihood that police officers incapable of defusing a situation like this would know the effect that a Taser could have on a fetus? I would say slim to none, and yet they did it anyway. Where is the pro-life movement when you need it?

Did it occur to police officers to explain to Brooks that signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt? Did it occur to them to allow her to use the restroom (which pregnant women in their last trimester do constantly) and then seize the vehicle? Are there no procedural guidelines for what to do when someone who poses no immediate threat refuses to sign a ticket for a moving violation?

This case clearly reflects a fundamental lack of common sense on the part of everyone involved, because using a Taser on a pregnant woman seems excessive to me. Even if Brooks was wrong for not signing the ticket, did her "defiant" behavior justify the use of a Taser? I think not. Just what did three male police officers think that one pregnant woman was going to be able to do to them? In the words of Diddy, this is more a case of "bitchassedness" than the right to Taser people indiscriminately.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: What society says about mothers and how mothers are treated are two different things. Tasering a pregnant woman is unconscionable. Pushing the case after you've won it so that you can justify the use of "a useful pain technique" is just sad. What is the world coming to when three police officers need a Taser to arrest an unarmed pregnant woman?

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site the Burton Wire and chair of the department of communication and media studies at Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter.

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