* Increasing number of lawsuits over police use of stun guns
* One case involved seven-month pregnant woman pulled over
* At issue whether stun gun use amounted to excessive force
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, May 29 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Tuesday let stand a ruling that police used excessive force when
they shot a Taser stun gun on a seven-month pregnant woman and
on a wife involved in a domestic dispute.
The justices declined to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals
court in California that found the constitutional rights of the
women to be violated because they did not pose a threat to the
safety of the officers.
The appeals court ruling was mixed, as it also held that the
officers had immunity because the law on the use of stun guns
was not clearly established at the time of the 2004 and 2006
The Supreme Court cases had drawn attention because more
police officers nationwide now use stun guns and there have been
a growing number of lawsuits seeking damages over use of the
devices that incapacitate people through a jolt of electricity.
Taser International Inc has a monopoly on the
stun-gun market and has been the target of several high-profile
lawsuits. But the company was not involved in the Supreme Court
In a 2004 incident in Seattle, Malaika Brooks, who was seven
months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school, was
stopped by the police for driving 32 miles per hour in a school
zone where the speed limit was 20 miles per hour.
She refused to sign the traffic ticket, insisting she had
not been speeding, and refused to get out of her car when the
officers threatened to arrest her.
"I have to go to the bathroom. I am pregnant. I'm less than
60 days from having my baby," Brooks told one of the officers
who had shown her his Taser.
SHOCKED THREE TIMES
After repeatedly warning her during a half-hour standoff
with the three officers, the police shocked her three times, on
her thigh, her arm and her neck. One of the officers said not to
shock her on her stomach.
Her daughter was born healthy and Brooks has not experienced
any lasting injuries from the tasing, though she does have
permanent burn scars from the incident.
She sued the officers, the city and others for damages on
the grounds that excessive force had been used in violation of
her constitutional rights. The officers appealed to the Supreme
Court while she appealed on the separate immunity issue.
In the other case in 2006 in Hawaii, Jayzel Mattos had her
daughter call the police because of a domestic dispute with her
husband, Troy Mattos. The police arrived and one of the four
officers moved to arrest the husband.
The wife stepped between the officers and her husband,
trying to defuse the situation. She said everyone should calm
down and go outside and expressed concern the commotion would
disturb her sleeping children.
Then, one of the officers shot his taser at Jayzel, causing
her to collapse on the floor. The couple sued the officers. The
officers appealed to the Supreme Court on the finding of
unconstitutional excessive force while the couple appealed the
part of the ruling that went against them.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeals without comment.
The Supreme Court cases are Steven Daman v. Malaika Brooks,
No. 11-898; Darren Agarano v. Troy Mattos, No 11-1032; Malaika
Brooks v. Steven Daman, No. 11-1045; and Troy Mattos v. Darren
Agarano, No. 11-1165.