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Originally published Friday, June 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Taser lawsuit allowed to go to trial

A federal judge says a civil-rights lawsuit against three Seattle police officers can go to trial next month, ruling that the officers used...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A federal judge says a civil-rights lawsuit against three Seattle police officers can go to trial next month, ruling that the officers used excessive force when they Tasered a pregnant woman who refused to sign a traffic ticket in 2004.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones ruled that a lawsuit filed against the officers by Malaika Brooks can go to trial July 7. The judge, however, dismissed the city, the Police Department and Chief Gil Kerlikowske from the lawsuit, saying there is insufficient evidence to show the incident sprang from improper training or the negligence of policymakers.

Jones noted in his ruling that he must consider the evidence in a light most favorable to Brooks but points out that there is little dispute about the facts surrounding the November 2004 traffic stop that led to the incident: Brooks, 34, was stopped for speeding in a school zone. When she refused to sign the citation the officers decided to arrest her.

When voice commands didn't work, court documents show, they used a "pain compliance" hold on her arm. When that didn't work, Officer Donald Jones jolted the woman with a Taser three times "in rapid succession." Brooks was seven months pregnant at the time.

"Any reasonable officer would have acknowledged numerous factors limiting the degree of force he could use against Ms. Brooks," the judge wrote. Court documents show Brooks did not threaten the officers or otherwise resist except by clutching the steering wheel and refusing to leave the car.

Ted Buck, one of the attorneys representing the officers, said he had not read the decision and could not comment. However, he did say that a judge or jury would have to address the issue of what an officer should do in such situations — use a Taser, which causes no permanent injuries, or risk an officer or suspect being hurt "trying to drag someone from a car."

Brooks, he said, "weighs something like 240 pounds."

"How long are the officers supposed to wait around?" he asked.

In their court filings, the officers argued they were concerned that Brooks might drive away and injure the officers or others.

The judge pointed out, however, that one of the officers swore in a declaration that he had reached into the car and taken the keys from the ignition.

"In the face of this admission, Defendants' repeated insistence that Ms. Brooks might have hurt someone with her car is wholly unconvincing, at best, and a misrepresentation to the court at worst," the judge wrote in an order issued late Thursday. "The facts before this court show that Ms. Brooks posed no threat to anyone."

Moreover, the officers were not in a life-and-death situation where they had to make a split-second decision. "Using a Taser to inflict extreme pain to effect the arrest ... of a nonviolent pregnant woman already under police control is a Fourth Amendment violation," the judge wrote.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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