Police in northwest Georgia fired a stun gun at an 87-year-old woman who does not speak English when she would not comply with demands to drop a kitchen knife.
A family member told police that Martha Al-Bishara, whose native language is Arabic, likes to wander near her home on 7th Avenue in Chatsworth to cut and collect dandelions, according to a police report obtained by AJC.com.
On Friday, she walked too close to the Boys and Girls Club in Murray County for staff members’ comfort, and they called police.
The 911 caller said he told the woman to leave, but she continued walking toward him carrying the knife.
Officers arrived at the Boys and Girls Club just before 4:30 p.m. with guns drawn, according to the report. They instructed three boys standing near Al-Bishara on a bike trail to “get back.”
“While we were approaching the female, she bent down to the ground and cut a weed and stood back up holding the weed in her left hand with the plastic bag,” an officer said in the report.
During her interaction with the officers, police said Al-Bishara remained “calm even seeing us with our guns out ... (she) never changed her demeanor even after I turned my Taser on and pointed it at her.”
Realizing she couldn’t understand them, the officers tried to mime that they wanted the woman to drop the knife. Police Chief Josh Etheridge at one point pulled out his pocket knife and threw it to the ground, according to the report. Still, Al-Bishara held her knife and continued walking toward the officers, police said.
When she was about 5 yards away, one of the officers deployed his stun gun, striking Al-Bishara in the chest. She fell to the ground, was handcuffed and arrested for obstruction of an officer and criminal trespass.
Etheridge defended the officer’s use of his stun gun in an interview with the Dalton Daily Citizen-News.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” he told the newspaper. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used at the time. And I know everyone is going to say, ‘An 87-year-old woman? How big a threat can she be?’ She still had a knife ... An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
Family members are not convinced the force was necessary. They told the newspaper that Al-Bishara is recovering at home after spending two hours at the Murray County jail.
“She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on,” Al-Bishara’s great-nephew Solomon Douhne, a former police officer in Dalton, told the Daily Citizen. “If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge.”
The charges against the woman are still pending, police said.
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