Supreme Court and Tasers: A Horror Story
Charles Pierce, Esquire Magazine
don't know why it is, but I don't really feel too sanguine about what will happen if a case regarding cops who tasered a pregnant woman gets to be heard in front of the current United States Supreme Court. Maybe laff-riot Tony Scalia once again will inaugurate Open Mic Nite at the Certiorari Chuckle Hut:
"Taser? I didn't even know her!"
This stuff kills, I tell you.
The facts on the ground seem horrid enough....
The case involves Malaika Brooks, who was seven months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle when she was pulled over for speeding. The police say she was going 32 miles per hour in a school zone; the speed limit was 20. Ms. Brooks said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time. Ms. Brooks thought, wrongly, that signing was an acknowledgment of guilt. Refusing to sign was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest Ms. Brooks. She would not get out of her car.
The justices of the US Supreme Court, 10/08/11. (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
The situation plainly called for bold action, and Officer Juan M. Ornelas met the challenge by brandishing a Taser and asking Ms. Brooks if she knew what it was. She did not, but she told Officer Ornelas what she did know. "I have to go to the bathroom," she said. "I am pregnant. I'm less than 60 days from having my baby." The three men assessed the situation and conferred. "Well, don't do it in her stomach," one said. "Do it in her thigh."
Question: is the shift of tone in this paragraph due to reportorial cluelessness, or some very sharp snark that somehow eluded the editors at the Times? I'm inclined to believe the latter, but discuss amongst yourselves.
Officer Ornelas twisted Ms. Brooks's arm behind her back. A colleague, Officer Donald M. Jones, applied the Taser to Ms. Brooks's left thigh, causing her to cry out and honk the car's horn. A half-minute later, Officer Jones applied the Taser again, now to Ms. Brooks's left arm. He waited six seconds before pressing it into her neck. Ms. Brooks fell over, and the officers dragged her into the street, laying her face down and cuffing her hands behind her back.
Bad as all that is, and it's past time for a national discussion of how militarized we want our local police to be, it only gets worse. The officers who bravely Tasered a seven-month pregnant woman into submission actually won themselves a split decision in the Ninth Circuit in which the court said they'd used excessive force but were immune from being sued. Even this wasn't enough for a couple of the justices.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented on the first point, saying Ms. Brooks had been "defiant" and "deaf to reason" and so had brought the incident upon herself. As for the officers, he said: "They deserve our praise, not the opprobrium of being declared constitutional violators. The City of Seattle should award them commendations for grace under fire." Another dissenter, Judge Barry G. Silverman, said "tasing was a humane way to force Brooks out of her car."
Amazingly enough, the cops have now appealed their victory to the Supreme Court, asking that the finding of excessive force be vacated because even that tepid reprimand "effectively strips officers of the authority to use any pain compliance technique to control an actively resisting arrestee." And what a shame that would be. In short order, the streets would be overrun with "defiant" pregnant ladies.
If the Supreme Court decides to hear this nonsense, one of the people to watch will be Justice Clarence Thomas, whose record on what should be allowed to happen to people in custody makes Torquemada look like Sister Helen Prejean. As I said, I am not optimistic here.