A national police organization and Los Angeles County police group want the court to hear an appeal opposed by Seattle city attorneys.
Citing a threat to public safety, a national police organization and a Los Angeles County police-chiefs group have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal brought by three Seattle police officers who repeatedly used a Taser on a pregnant woman during a 2004 traffic stop.
A federal appeals-court ruling allowing the officers to be sued “has created a new legal scenario that will either increase lawlessness or increase injuries to suspects, officers, and the general public,” according to a brief filed by Los Angeles attorney Steven Renick on behalf of the groups.
The appeals ruling took away 20 years of case law by limiting officers’ discretion to use necessary force when people resist arrest, argues the friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday by the 30,000 member National Tactical Officers Association and the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association. The Los Angeles group represents all the county’s chief law-enforcement executives, including the Los Angeles police chief and Los Angeles County sheriff.
“As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Renick said in the brief, which must be accepted by the high court.
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The filing is the latest twist in a long-running case that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office wanted to end with the appeals-court ruling. Earlier this week, the office asked the Supreme Court to not hear the appeal by the three Seattle officers, in part because a private attorney hired by the city filed the request over the city’s objections.
In their appeal, the three officers ask the court to overturn an October ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed the woman to pursue a claim of assault and battery against them under Washington state law.
Tasers were used directly on the woman, Malaika Brooks, three times in about 42 seconds after she refused to sign a speeding ticket and exit her car. She was seven months pregnant, but the officers contend her large body size made that hard to verify.
The court, in a 6-5 decision based on Brooks’ version of events, concluded the Taser use could be found to be excessive and a violation of her constitutional rights. The ruling meant Brooks, whose baby was born healthy, could pursue her state-law claim against Sgt. Steven Daman and officers Juan Ornelas and Donald Jones.
Brooks was barred from pursuing additional claims against the officers under federal law because the law governing Taser use was unclear at the time.
After the ruling, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office concluded a Supreme Court appeal wasn’t prudent, fearing it could produce unhelpful Supreme Court precedent on Taser use. In addition, Seattle police policy was changed after the Brooks incident. Drivers are no longer required to sign tickets. And state law was also changed along the same lines.
Despite the wishes of the City Attorney’s Office, Ted Buck, the private attorney hired by the city to handle the case, went ahead with the appeal. It’s now up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to take the case.
Buck, at the city’s request, has since withdrawn from the case and been replaced with another private Seattle attorney, Robert Christie.
Buck’s petition to the Supreme Court faulted the 9th Circuit ruling, saying it conflicts with Supreme Court decisions that “law enforcement officers’ have the right to use force to effect an arrest.”
City attorneys, in a brief filed Tuesday, said the ruling addressed the use of Tasers “in the particular, atypical circumstances of this case,” not the “sky is falling” interpretation of the officers.
The national and Los Angeles police organizations, in their brief, argued that the 9th Circuit ruling creates an “inflexible” and “unworkable” rule, “because it ignores the infinite variety of situations police officers confront on a daily basis.”
Brooks’ attorneys filed briefs with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, including a request to deny the officers’ petition. But if the court decides to hear the officers’ case, Brooks asked that the court also review the 9th Circuit’s finding that she can’t sue the officers on federal claims.
Information from Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com