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September 3, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Seattle to pay $45,000 in Taser use on pregnant woman

Resolving a long-running legal battle, the city of Seattle has agreed to pay $45,000 to a woman who was seven months pregnant when three Seattle police officers shot her with a Taser during a 2004 traffic stop.

The case involving Malaika Brooks raised questions about Seattle police tactics, years before federal scrutiny led to a landmark 2012 settlement in which the city agreed to adopt broad reforms to curtail the use of excessive force in the police department.

Over the years, the case wound its way through federal courts as  judges sought to determine if Brooks’ refusal to sign a traffic ticket and resist arrest justified the administration of three 50,000-volt tasings in less than a minute.

“After almost eight years of litigation, we are pleased to have this matter resolved,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. “We stood behind our officers throughout the years that this dispute has been pending and that does not change with this settlement.”

The city admitted no wrongdoing on the part of the officers, who had stopped Brooks for allegedly speeding in a school zone.

Brooks’ attorney, Eric Zubel, said Wednesday that his client agreed to the settlement because she wants to get on with her life.

“It’s her belief that she was brutally assaulted and battered by the Seattle police in the use of the Taser,” Zubel said.

Brooks filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2006 against the city and three officers, who directly applied the Taser in the so-called “drive-stun” mode rather than firing darts.

Federal claims were dismissed in 2011 by the 9th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Brooks’ lawsuit could not proceed despite evidence of unconstitutional use of force because the law governing use of Tasers was unclear in 2004.

But the ruling allowed Brooks to pursue assault claims under state law, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to stand in 2012.

Trial  was  to begin in November in King County Superior Court.

Brooks opted to settle after the trial judge dismissed one  of the officers — a sergeant — from the case, leaving the two other officers to argue they were following orders, Zubel said.

At that point, Zubel said, the city had the “head cut off the monster” and there was “not much of a case left.”

The department now restricts the use of Tasers on pregnant women, limiting it to exceptional circumstances. In addition, the Legislature subsequently amended state law to provide that individuals who refuse to sign citations are no longer subject to arrest.

“We feel we did something good,” Zubel said.

In addition, Zubel said, the 9th Circuit ruling made clear that police could be held liable for the inappropriate use of Tasers.

Brooks, whose baby was born healthy, now works as a driver-education instructor, Zubel said.

Brooks was driving her son to Seattle’s African American Academy and was stopped while 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, according to court documents.

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

The officers — Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones — first attempted a manual “pain compliance” hold to force her from the car. When that didn’t work, the officers applied a Taser in the painful touch-stun mode three times in rapid succession on her thigh, shoulder and neck. The officers then pulled her out of the car and handcuffed her face down in the street, according to the reports and her federal lawsuit.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: lawsuit, Seattle City Attorney's Office, Seattle Police Department

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