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Tased and Confused: Will Supreme Court Hear Excessive Force Case?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 16, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When we first read the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in which Seattle cops used a Taser on a woman who was seven months pregnant because she wouldn’t sign a speeding ticket, we were shocked that the Ninth Circuit ruled that the cops were entitled to qualified immunity. We expected the plaintiff to appeal Supreme Court petition in the case, but we thought the cops would be happy with the ruling.

Well, color us surprised.

The Taser-happy cops in Mattos v. Agarano are petitioning the Supreme Court, claiming that the Ninth Circuit incorrectly concluded that they used excessive force against the pregnant speeder, reports The New York Times. Taser use in the situation wasn’t excessive force, they argue, it was a “useful pain technique.”

Let's go back to the facts to catch you up, in case you haven't followed this case.

Malaika Brooks was seven months pregnant when Seattle police cited her for going 32 in a school zone where the speed limit was 20 miles per hour. Brooks repeatedly refused to sign the speeding citation because she mistakenly believed that it would be an admission of guilt.

After explaining to Brooks that she would be arrested if she didn't sign the citation, one of the three police officers at the scene pulled out a Taser and asked Brooks if she knew what it was. Brooks responded that she didn't, and told the police that she was "less than 60 days away" from having a baby and needed to go to the bathroom. The officers then began to discuss where to taser Brooks, agreeing that it should not be on her stomach since she was pregnant. The officers eventually entered Brooks' car, applying the Taser to her arm, leg, and neck before dragging her out of the car and off to jail.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the officers violated Brooks' Fourth Amendment rights, but that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional right to be free of tasering was not clearly established in the context of the case. The court also concluded that tasering a non-threatening suspect, like Brooks, is excessive force.

The City of Seattle thinks the Court should let the opinion stand, but police groups -- like the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs' Association -- want the Nine to intervene before word spreads through "society's criminal underground" that the rule of law has been compromised, The New York Times reports.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide next week whether it will hear the case.

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