May 29, 2012 / 2:41 PM / 6 years ago

RPT-US high court won't review police Taser use cases

* Increasing number of lawsuits over police use of stun guns

* One case involved seven-month pregnant woman pulled over for speeding

* At issue whether stun gun use amounted to excessive force

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON, May 29 (Reuters) - 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 incidents.

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 cases.

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.


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.

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