Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Digby has a report on an appalling ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of police officers who tased a pregnant woman three times — because she refused to sign a speeding ticket. Here are the facts of the case:

Malaika Brooks was driving her son to Seattle’s African American Academy in 2004 when she was stopped for doing 32 mph in a school zone. She insisted it was the car in front of her that was speeding, and refused to sign the ticket because she thought she’d be admitting guilt.

Rather than give her the ticket and let her go on her way, the officers decided to arrest her. One reached in, turned off her car and dropped the keys on the floor. Brooks stiffened her arms against the steering wheel and told the officers she was pregnant, but refused to get out, even after they threatened to stun her.

The officers — Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones — then stunned her three times, in the thigh, shoulder and neck, and hauled her out of the car, laying her face-down in the street.


This is clear misconduct. Refusing to sign the ticket is not grounds for arrest. They should have simply given her the ticket and let a judge sort it out when she goes to court to fight it. They tried to make a totally unjustified arrest and then tased a pregnant woman as their first course of response to her resistance. The dissenting judge agreed:

The majority’s opinion outraged Judge Marsha Berzon, who called it “off the wall.”

“I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense,” she wrote.

She argued that under Washington law, the officers had no authority to take Brooks into custody: Failure to sign a traffic infraction is not an arrestable offense, and it’s not illegal to resist an unlawful arrest.

Berzon said the majority’s notion that Brooks obstructed officers was so far-fetched that even the officers themselves didn’t make that legal argument. To obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer’s official duties, and the officers’ only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks’ failure to sign did not interfere with those duties, she said.

Clearly correct.