Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Tase Me One More Time: An Analysis of the Ninth Circuit's Interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity, and Tasers in Brooks V. City of Seattle

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Tase Me One More Time: An Analysis of the Ninth Circuit's Interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity, and Tasers in Brooks V. City of Seattle

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

In Brooks v. City of Seattle, die Nintii Circuit considered whether officers were entitled to qualified immunity when they tased a pregnant woman who refused to exit her car after declining to sign a traffic ticket.1 Following primarily the multi-factor test from Graham v. Connor? the court found that "die Officers [were] entitled to qualified immunity" because their "use of force [was] reasonable and not excessive under the Fourth Amendment."3

This Note contends that die Ninth Circuit was incorrect in finding diat the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for two reasons: (1) the court should not have raised probable cause issues sua sponte after the officers waived those arguments, and (2) the officers used excessive force when they tased a pregnant woman three times. This Note will begin with an overview of the Brooks decision in Part II followed by an overview of the legal background of excessive force claims in Part III. Part IV will summarize the Brooks court's decision. Part V will analyze the excessive force issue in connection with Tasers. Finally, Part VI will conclude.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Malaika Brooks was pulled over by Officer Órnelas for speeding in a school zone on November 23, 2004.4 Brooks refused to sign die Notice of Infraction because she claimed she was not speeding.5 Officer Jones then arrived and Officer Órnelas told him about the situation.6 Officer Jones attempted to obtain her signature and assured Brooks "diat signing was not tantamount to admitting the violation," but "[s]he . . . became upset, repeating 'I'm not signing, I'm not signing' over and over."7

The parties disputed whether the officers were asking Brooks to sign "both a Notice based upon her speeding . . . and a Citation to Appear based upon her refusal to sign die Notice";8 however, the court assumed die validity of Brooks's assertion diat she was only asked to sign die Notice of Infraction.9

When Brooks refused to exit die car, Officer Jones showed her his Taser and explained how badly it would hurt.10 Brooks told die officers "she was pregnant and that she needed to use die restroom."11 Because she continued to stay in the car, Officer Órnelas took die "key out of die ignition, dropping die keys on die floorboard."12 Officer Órnelas then "employed a pain compliance technique, bringing Brooks's left arm up behind her back," and Brooks grabbed die steering wheel to prevent him from removing her from the car.13 Because she would not exit die car, "Officer Jones discharged the Taser [in drive-stun mode] against Brooks's thigh, through her sweat pants," causing great pain.14 After Brooks yelled and honked die horn, Officer Jones tased her on her shoulder and on her bare neck.15 At this point, Brooks could not exit die car because "her arm was still behind her back."10 After the tiiird application of the Taser, the officers forced Brooks out of the car "through a combination of pushing and pulling."17 From die three applications of the Taser, Brooks was burned on her "thigh, arm, and neck" and received permanent "scars on her thigh and upper arm."18 As soon as the officers removed Brooks from her car, they "laid her on her stomach in the street," and she told them "they were hurting her."19

As a result of not cooperating with the officers, Brooks faced charges for (1) "refusing to sign the Notice, and (2) resisting arrest."20 She was found guilty of die first charge, but the second was dismissed due to a hung jury.21

Brooks asserted "a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and assault and battery claims under state tort law for the alleged excessive force."22 The district court ruled diat die officers used excessive force; therefore, the officers were not entitied to qualified immunity, and die court denied die officers' motion for summary judgment.23 The officers appealed to die Ninth Circuit, and the Nintii Circuit reversed.24

III. SIGNIFICANT LEGAL BACKGROUND

Under certain circumstances, officers are granted qualified immunity in excessive force cases so they can avoid the hassle of litigation. …

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