The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.
Court: Seattle police used excessive force on pregnant woman
Posted by John de Leon
-- From The Associated Press:
A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Seattle police used excessive force when three officers used a stun gun on a pregnant woman during a traffic stop in 2004.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judged the debilitating stun-gun blast to be excessive because the woman, Malaika Brooks, did not pose a threat to the safety of the officers.
But the court, sitting in its full 11-judge forum used to decide important questions of law, granted immunity from prosecution to the police officers involved because the law governing stun-gun use wasn't yet clear at the time of the incident, according to The AP.
Four of the 11 judges dissented in part, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote that he was concerned that branding the use of stun guns as excessive force would lead police to use more dangerous methods to subdue those resisting arrest.
Brooks, who was seven months' pregnant, was stopped for entering a 20-mph school zone at 32 mph. She refused to sign the traffic ticket or get out of the car when police threatened to arrest her.
After a half-hour standoff and the arrival of two backup officers, police fired three blasts of the Taser to her thigh, arm and neck. When Brooks fell over, immobilized, police dragged her out of the car onto the pavement, laid her face down and handcuffed her.
The officers were identified as Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones.
Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby two months later, but has permanent scars from the Taser. She sued the police officers, claiming her Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force had been violated.
Last year, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest.
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