A police department’s decision to use a Taser to subdue an 87-year-old grandmother in rural Georgia has triggered fury among her family members.
Martha Al-Bishara was cutting plants with a kitchen knife in Chatsworth, north of Georgia, last Friday, when she went to a wooded area near a Boys and Girls Club. An employee then called 911 to report an elderly woman walking around with a knife who wouldn’t obey requests to leave the property.
The caller said the woman appeared to be gathering vegetation and that she didn’t seem to be a threat, CNN reported. “There’s a lady walking on the bike trails, she has a knife and she won’t leave,” the caller told 911. “She told me she doesn’t speak English, and she’s walking up the trail with a knife towards me.”
Officers responded and said Al-Bishara didn’t obey multiple commands to drop the knife, so they drew their guns on her before using a Taser to bring her to the ground. Al-Bishara is from Syria originally, and like the 911 caller, relatives said she does not speak English.
The 87-year-old was charged with trespass and obstructing and officer, according to the police report. Chatsworth police chief Josh Etheridge, who was one of the officers who responded to the call, defended the decision to use a Taser on Al-Bishara.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” Etheridge told the Daily Citizen News on Monday. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat 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.”
Relatives of Al-Bishara, however, said the police response was completely unnecessary. “We think that what happened is absolutely ridiculous,” Al-Bishara’s grandson, Timothy Douhne, told ABC News Wednesday. “If they had calmed down, deescalated the situation, listened a little bit, we wouldn’t be having this issue right now. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.”
“If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge,” Solomon Douhne, the woman’s great-nephew, told the New York Post. Martha Douhne, Al-Bishara’s great-granddaughter, added that Al-Bishara is currently in good condition, although she is having trouble sleeping and is stressed.
A neighbor described Al-Bishara and her husband as quiet people who never bothered anybody, and said they liked to share the vegetables they grew on their properties with neighbors. “The woman wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said. “Using a Taser on someone that age is ridiculous.”
Etheridge said that there would be a full internal investigation into the incident, and that, if necessary, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation could come in and conduct its own review. He added that there is reportedly body-cam footage of the incident, but it cannot yet be released because of the pending charges against Al-Bishara. She is due to appear in court on September 19.