Malaika Brooks was seven-months pregnant and with her 11 year old son in the car when whe was pulled over for speeding one day in 2004.
The two Seattle police officers who had pulled her over cited her for driving 32 mph in a 20 mph zone. Although she accepted the ticket once handed to her, she did not want to sign it because she had incorrectly believed it would have been an admissin of guilt had she done so.
The two officers asked for back up, and one of them held up the Tazer to show Brooks what he was holding, and asked if she knew what it was. Brooks said she didn’t, and told them she needed to go to the bathroom. She had also mentioned that she was 2 months away from giving birth.
A patrol supervisor appeared and placed Brooks under arrest.
During her arrest, the patrol officers discussed where to Taze Brooks since they were trying to avoid her stomach. She opted for her thigh.
With her arm twisted behind her back, Brooks was Tazed first in her thigh, then her arm, and finally her other arm.
She fell over and was dragged into the street to be cuffed while laying face down on the ground.
By the time the case had went to court, all the way up to the 9th Circuit court of Appeal, the officers were not held liable due to the uncertaintly of the law in 2004. The court did rule, however, that they caused “Excessive Force.”
They appealed regardless of the ruling, however, in order to clarify the precedent that the 9th Circuit may or may have not set for such cases.
This case holds a great deal of import though. Mostly because it is one of those rare instances where the surrounding circumstances make the violence so much more worthy of juicy news stories. First, it’s a woman. Second, she’s pregant. Third, another innocent child sits in the vehicle to witness the affair.
What is unfortunate, is that most journalists that report on the issue have only a limited space to describe the details–the above which are plenty to write about. For some people, the fact pattern above is enough to drive someone full of anger towards Seattle’s finest. To opposite spectrum, questions would arise as to what kind of verbal refusals being made by Brooks, and how professional were the officers in their attempts of getting her to comply.
Whichever side of the fence one sits on, one this is clear: Could there have been another way?
To some practitioners in the criminal justice system, the issue of a traffic citation is minimal at best when compared to other crimes. Not only that, many in the field know that the ticket itself is not the only form of documentation to legitimize the stop. Had Brooks not shown up to court, there would have simply been a warrant for her arrest. So this begs the questions, why the arrest? Why the Tazing?
Was the signature on a speeding ticket of such great importance that three officers had to apply the same amount of force to a suspect that was running away from an undercover drug deal? What about a true suspect that spits in an officer’s face and tries to kick anyone that gets near him?
One Supreme Court case holding that come to mind tends to favor a much more fundamental idea:
“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation form a police state.” Houston v. Hill 482 U.S. 451, 462-63 (1987).