A split Ninth Circuit panel today sided with Seattle officers who'd tased a pregnant woman three times after she refused to sign a speeding ticket that she didn't think she deserved.
Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall's majority opinion said the officers had done nothing to justify stripping them of qualified immunity.
Just a few months ago, another Ninth Circuit panel OK'd a suit in another traffic-stop tasing case, Bryan v. McPherson. In that one, the court said police overreacted when the agitated driver -– who, through a series of misfortunes, was half-naked and on his second traffic stop of the morning -– started slamming his fists into his own thighs and yelling "gibberish." Judge Kim Wardlaw said that while the tasing officer's "desire to quickly and decisively end an unusual and tense situation is understandable," his means of doing so -- shooting the driver with a taser, causing him to fall to the ground and chip four teeth -- violated the driver's "right to be free from excessive force."
But in Friday's case, Brooks v. Seattle, the tasing was done in "touch, or drive-stun mode," which Hall distinguished from the tasing in Bryan.
The distinction didn't sit well with Judge Martha Berzon, whose dissent begins:
Here is what happened to Malaika Brooks, a pregnant mother, as she was driving her son to school one day: Two, soon three, police officers surrounded her. The officers thought she was speeding in a school zone; she says she was not. Brooks provided her identification when asked, so there was no doubt who she was or where to find her. The officers wrote her a ticket but she refused to sign it. Refusing to sign a speeding ticket was at the time a nonarrestable misdemeanor; now, in Washington, it is not even that. Brooks had no weapons and had not harmed or threatened to harm a soul. Although she had told the officers she was seven months pregnant, they proceeded to use a Taser on her, not once but three times, causing her to scream with pain and leaving burn marks and permanent scars.