The City of Seattle has settled for $45,000 with local mom Malaika Brooks over the 2004 triple-Tasing incident that left the then-eight months pregnant motorist face-down, handcuffed on the sidewalk in front of her young child’s school.
Brooks was accused of refusing to sign a traffic ticket for speeding. Seattle Police Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones’ actions spurred mixed court rulings almost as high as the US Supreme Court. That court kicked the case back to a lower court in 2012.
Brooks had also filed a lawsuit against the officers in King County Superior Court, and a trial in that case was scheduled for November of this year; last week’s announcement takes that off the docket.
In its settlement, the City “admits no wrongdoing on the part of the officers,” officials said in a statement.
Brooks, who was allegedly driving 32 mph in a 20 mph zone on the way to drop her son off at the African American Academy, had refused to sign the ticket because, she said, she believed it was an admission of guilt.
The settlement comes as local communities are organizing speak-outs and events drawing attention to police relations in Seattle and beyond, in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., police killing of an unarmed African American pedestrian.
Saturday Sept. 6, dozens attended a meeting on police relations at the Rose of Sharon Pentecostal Temple on Rainier Avenue.
Aug. 23, the Northwest African American Museum hosted a PechaKucha event around the rioting in Ferguson, bringing together a diverse crowd that filled the hall to hear a roster of speakers on police accountability. (PechaKucha is a presentation format using 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each, backed by commentary.)
In the Brooks case, which caused a national sensation, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain in 2010 ruled the Seattle Police use of force justified against the pregnant mother.
In her opinion, Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."
Dissenting Judge Marsha Berzon argued that failure to sign a traffic ticket “is not an arrestable offense.”
She wrote, "I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense.”
Berson wrote in her ruling that the officers had no idea whether their use of force would send Brooks into premature labor.
Brooks' lawyer, Eric Zubel, asked the 9th Circuit to rehear the case, which they did – a rare event.
"This is outrageous -- that something like this could happen to a pregnant woman, in front of an elementary school, at 8:30 in the morning, to someone who posed no threat whatsoever," he told the Associated Press.
The case then went to a panel of 11 federal appellate court judges, who ruled that – even though there was evidence of an unconstitutional use of force by the officers against her -- Brooks’ lawsuit could not proceed because legal guidelines on Taser use as set out in 2004 were not clear enough.
“After almost eight years of litigation, we are pleased to have this matter resolved,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said last week. “We stood behind our officers throughout the years that this dispute has been pending and that does not change with this settlement.”
Brooks’ arrest and the resulting uproar triggered two minor reforms: Individuals who refuse to sign citations are no longer subject to arrest; and “police department policy now restricts the use of Tasers on pregnant women to exceptional circumstances,” said Holmes.
The African American Academy was shut down by Seattle Public Schools in 2009.