In yet another example that illustrates just how much more training our nation’s police forces need, police in Georgia used a Taser on an 87-year-old grandmother suffering from dementia—because there is no bigger threat to four grown men with guns than an old lady with mobility issues.
The incident took place on Friday, Aug. 10. CNN reports that Martha Al-Bishara—who is Syrian and does not speak English—was looking for dandelions in a wooded area in Chatsworth, Ga. Family members said Al-Bishara uses the dandelions to make a salad for her husband. When she is unable to find the flowers in her own yard, she often goes looking for them in the wooded area near her home.
That wooded area is near a Boys and Girls Club, and an employee from the club saw Al-Bishara walking on a nearby trail with the knife. The employee called police to alert them, telling the dispatcher that the woman did not appear to be threatening, did not speak English, and appeared to be looking for vegetation to cut, as she had a bag in her hand as well.
When the dispatcher asked the caller if Al-Bishara had threatened them with the knife, the employee once again clarified that the old woman did not seem to pose a threat to anyone.
Two Chatsworth police officers showed up on the scene accompanied by Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge. They repeatedly asked Al-Bishara to drop the knife, but she did not. The officers wrote in their report “Her demeanor was calm, even when we had our guns out.” They noted that they used hand gestures to demonstrate that they wanted her to drop the knife, but she still did not comply.
The officers told News Channel 9 that they even used their own knives to try and demonstrate what they meant to Al-Bishara. When none of their attempts at communicating worked, the stun gun was then used on the old woman.
Chief Etheridge told News Channel 9 that the officers used the “least force necessary” to control the situation. The Chatsworth Police Department acknowledged that the entire situation was caused by a major communication barrier.
Al-Bishara was reportedly helped up by police, arrested, and charged with obstructing an officer and criminal trespass. Both charges are misdemeanors, and she was released on her own recognizance after spending two hours at the Murray County jail.
Family members told Daily Citizen-News that she is recovering from the incident but is now afraid of going outside and is also having trouble sleeping.
Daily Citizen-News reports that an incident report shows the 911 call was made by the Boys and Girls Club employee at 4:28 p.m. and lasted a little more than three minutes.
Etheridge said the time from the beginning of the 911 call to the time Al-Bishara was tased was less than ten minutes.
Etheridge also said that there was no immediate threat to children at the time of the incident. The area where Al-Bishara was looking for dandelions is on the Boys and Girls Club property. An incomplete fence on the back side of the property provides access into the wooded area. Al-Bishara and her husband live directly across from that opening.
“You don’t Tase an 87-year-old woman,” Al-Bishara’s great-nephew, Solomon Douhne—a former Dalton, Ga., Police Department officer—told Daily Citizen-News. “She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on. It was a ridiculous turn of events. If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge.”
“She had a small kitchen knife and was cutting dandelions in a lot next to her house,” Douhne said. “She was not threatening any kids at the Boys and Girls Club.”
Daily Citizen-News reports viewing officer body camera footage of the incident. The footage shows Al-Bishara’s family members arriving on the scene shortly after she was tased. Officers did not call emergency medical personnel to assist her, nor did they tell her family members that she had been tased.
Her daughter-in-law told CNN that Al-Bishara suffers from dementia and only speaks Arabic.
Etheridge has said that an internal investigation of the incident will be conducted, and the officer who deployed the Taser, Steven Marshall, remains on duty with no restrictions.
Etheridge defended the actions of his officer to Daily Citizen-News.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” he told the outlet. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time. And I know everyone is going to say, ‘An 87-year-old woman? How big a threat can she be?’ She still had a knife.”
“I completely understand and if I hadn’t been there and it would come across my desk, that is the first thing I would ask as well,” he continued. “Why did we Tase an 87-year-old woman? I guess in that circumstance, I am glad I was there and saw it firsthand and understand why it occurred. An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
Al-Bishara is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 19. Her attorney, Jeff Dean, told CNN that the family is considering pursuing legal action against the Chatsworth Police Department.
As well they should.