The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case involving police use of Tasers. In the case, a lower court ruled that police officers in two separate incidents engaged in unreasonable force when discharging their Tasers. However, because case law was not established at the time of the incidents, the officers were not necessarily aware of this fact. Therefore, they were protected from liability. In refusing to hear an appeal of the case, the Court allowed the lower court’s decision to stand, allowing various appellate courts to issue conflicting rulings on the issue.
The cases in question, Brooks v. City of Seattle and Mattos v. Agarano, were combined by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In one case, a lower court found that the police used excessive force, and in another, a court ruled that questions of fact remained as to whether the police actions were reasonable. Upon appeal, two different courts ruled that the officers in each case were entitled to qualified immunity—a legal theory that protects government employees from liability unless their actions clearly violate statutory or constitutional rights that would have been obvious to a reasonable person.
In Brooks, two Seattle police officers pulled Malaika Brooks over for speeding as she drove her son to elementary school in 2004. Brooks, who was seven months pregnant at the time, denied that she was speeding and refused to sign the speeding citation. The officers threatened to take Brooks to jail if she did not sign the citation, but she continued to refuse. Another officer arrived on the scene. The officers then showed Brooks the Taser and asked if she knew what it was. She said she did not.
Brooks then told the officers that she was pregnant and needed to use the restroom. After learning of the pregnancy, the officers then stood near Brooks’s car and had a discussion about the best place to use the Taser on Brooks. One of the officers crawled into the back seat of the car and pulled Brooks’s arm behind her back. Then, an officer used the Taser on Brooks’s left thigh. Within approximately 60 seconds, the officer followed with Taser shocks on Brooks’s left arm and her neck. After the third shock, Brooks collapsed. Officers pulled her from the car and placed her face down on the street before handcuffing her.
Brooks’s gave birth to a healthy girl two months later. Brooks carries scars from the Taser shocks, but she has no other long-term injuries from the incident. Brooks was later charged with a misdemeanor violation of city code for refusing to sign the traffic violation.
Brooks sued the officers for assault and battery and a Fourth Amendment violation of unreasonable force. The officers claimed qualified immunity under state and federal law. The district court rejected the claim, and the officers appealed the decision.