Police officers in Chatsworth, Georgia, used a taser on an 87-year-old woman who was walking outdoors carrying a knife, and now they have to defend their decision to a skeptical public, according to The Hill.
The woman, Martha Al-Bishara, is from Syria and speaks very little English. Police stopped her while she was cutting leaves with a knife last week after someone called 911. That’s when things went wrong.
“And I know, everyone is going to say: ‘An 87-year-old woman? How big a threat can she be?'” said police Chief Josh Etheridge, according to the Daily Citizen-News. “She still had a knife.”
According to The New York Times, Al-Bishara regularly cuts dandelion greens that grow near her house and mixes them into a salad with garlic and lemon.
Last week, however, she was seen by a Boys and Girls Club employee because she was cutting leaves on their property. The employee called the police.
When the police arrived, they reportedly told her to drop the knife. She did not comply, although it’s not clear whether that’s because she was refusing or because she didn’t understand. She continued walking.
Feeling threatened, one officer drew his gun and pointed it at her, while another hit her in the chest and stomach with his taser, handcuffed her and booked her on charges of trespassing and obstructing law enforcement officers.
“Why did we tase an 87-year-old woman? I guess in that circumstance, I am glad I was there and saw it firsthand and understand why it occurred,” Etheridge said. “An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
Etheridge, who was the officer who drew his gun, said the taser was “the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time.”
The family doesn’t buy it
The recording of the 911 call makes it clear that the employee didn’t report the woman as an active threat.
“She didn’t try to attack anybody or anything,” the employee told the dispatcher. “It looks like she is walking around looking for something, vegetation to cut down or something. She has a bag, too.”
Al-Bishara’s grandson, Stephen Douhne, said his grandmother didn’t know what was happening.
“She did not know what was going on,” Douhne said. “When she was growing up, they didn’t even hardly have school for women.”
Douhne’s cousin, a former police officer from nearby Dalton, Georgia, called the use of force “ridiculous.”
“It was a ridiculous turn of events,” Solomon Douhne said. “If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge.”
The case is currently under review by an independent prosecutor.