A Georgia police chief is defending the use of a Taser on an 87-year-old grandmother after she was seen walking around with a knife near her home, which her family says was for cutting dandelions for a salad.
Martha Al-Bishara, 87, whose family says she doesn’t speak English, was gathering the flowers Friday on property belonging to a Boys and Girls Club organization in Chatsworth when a staff member called 911 on her for trespassing, the Dalton Daily Citizen-News reported, citing the police report.
“She’s old so she can’t get around too well, but looks like she’s walking around looking for something, like vegetation to cut down or something. There’s a bag too,” the caller told police in the 911 recording. The caller, who described the woman as wearing a “Muslim hat-looking thing,” said there were no children outside and that the woman said she didn’t speak English.
Three Chatsworth police officers reportedly responded to the scene about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta and ordered Al-Bishara to drop her knife. When she didn’t follow their command, they used a Taser on her.
Police Chief Josh Etheridge, speaking to the Daily Citizen-News, defended his officers’ actions, saying the woman should have complied even if she didn’t understand English.
“She’s seeing us, she hears what we’re saying, she may not know what we’re saying, but we’re telling her to stop and there’s a Taser pointed at her and there’s a firearm that’s unholstered there. Most people, that’s kind of the universal command for stop,” he said. He added that using a Taser was the “minimum force.”
Al-Bishara’s family does not agree.
“If they had calmed down, de-escalated the situation, listened a little bit, we wouldn’t be having this issue right now,” her grandson, 24-year-old medical student Timothy Douhne, told ABC News on Wednesday.
Al-Bishara’s great-nephew Solomon Douhne, a former Dalton Police Department officer, also questioned the officers’ response.
“She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on,” he told the Daily Citizen-News. “It was a ridiculous turn of events. If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge.”
Douhne said after his grandmother was stunned, she was handcuffed and booked on suspicion of misdemeanor criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer. She was held for three hours at the police station before being released and taken to a hospital by her family.
“She’s still feeling pretty shook up,” he told ABC News. “Her body is still pretty tired. She has some symptoms, I think, of post-traumatic stress. She can’t go outside and look at the spot where it happened. She’s feeling really bad about the whole situation and really embarrassed, and has been crying on and off.”
He said the family has not decided whether it will take legal action. Etheridge said his department will review the situation to see if anything could have been done differently.
The police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Last week in Ohio, police used a stun gun on an 11-year-old girl in Cincinnati after she was accused of shoplifting from a grocery store. That incident has launched an investigation by the department, which has not defended the officer’s actions.