Georgia police are defending an officer’s decision to use a taser on a 87-year-old elderly woman using a knife to cut dandelions.
Law enforcement officials say the woman, Martha Al-Bishara, should have followed orders. But Al-Bishara does not speak English and did not understand the officer’s request, her family says.
“An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer,” Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge told the Daily Citizen-News of Dalton.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” Etheridge said. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time.”
Al-Bishara was cutting dandelions outside a local Boys and Girls Club nearby her home in Chatsworth to use in a salad, her family said. An employee called the police on her for walking around with a knife.
“She’s old so she can’t get around too well, but,” the employee said on the 911 recording. “Looks like she’s walking around looking for something, like, vegetation to cut down or something. There’s a bag, too.”
When Etheridge and other officers arrived at the scene Al-Bishara would not put down her knife or follow orders, Etheridge said. He tried to communicate with her to drop the knife by dropping his own pocket knife on the ground.
Footage viewed by the Daily Citizen-News shows Etheridge and officer Steven Marshall in a stand down with a woman who is holding a knife, Etheridge with a pistol aimed at the woman and Marshall with a Taser in his hands, the outlet reported.
Officers employed the electric stun gun, bringing Al-Bishara to the ground. She was charged with criminal trespass and obstructing an officer.
Al-Bishara’s family members said officers should have been more patient.
“You don’t Tase an 87-year-old woman,” great-nephew Solomon Douhne, a former Dalton Police Department officer told the Daily Citizen-News. “She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on.”
Al-Bishara is stable but shaken up and embarrassed, her family said. The police department will undergo an internal use-of-force review, according to Etheridge.
The incident comes just a week after a separate case involving the controversial use of a taser occurred in Ohio when a police officer used a stun gun on an 11-year-old girl accused of stealing.
Last year, the family of 15-year-old Damon Grimes filed a $50 million lawsuit against a Michigan State Police after an trooper shocked Grimes from the window of his patrol car in an effort to get Grimes off the road. Grimes, who was riding an ATV, then crashed into a pickup truck and died.
A Reuters investigation published last year looked into over 1,000 deaths related to tasers with many fatalities among society’s most-vulnerable. When used properly, tasers lower the rate of injury for both police and people they confront, according to independent studies.
But Reuters investigation found that stun guns can be deadly, and when they are, its often for people dealing with mental illness, emotional breakdowns or seizure disorders.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow Lilly Price on Twitter: @lillianmprice
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