Georgia police use taser on 87-year-old Syrian woman cutting dandelions with a knife

Georgia police use taser on 87-year-old Syrian woman cutting dandelions with a knife

Last Friday, a dispatcher received a call from an employee at the Boys and Girls Club in rural Georgia. "There's a lady walking on the bike trails, she has a knife and she won't leave," said the caller. "She told me she doesn't speak English... It looks like she's walking around looking for something, vegetation to cut down or something. She has a bag too."

The caller told the dispatcher that the elderly woman did not seem like a threat. "She didn't try and attack anybody or anything," said the employee. "She's old, so she can't get around too well."

Chatsworth police chief Josh Etheridge and two armed officers drove to the scene, a wooded area about 80 miles north of Atlanta. According to the police report, they approached the elderly woman and commanded her several times to drop the steak knife. She did not comply. Etheridge threw his own pocket knife on the ground,  to demonstrate what they meant. But again, she did not comply.

The elderly woman began to walk toward the policemen, and one of the officers turned on his taser. "The female did not react to the Taser being on, or the white light coming from the end of the Taser," according to the police report. Then the officer fired the taser, striking the elderly woman in the chest from about five yards away. The jolt of electricity brought her to the ground.

After the cops helped the suspect to her feet and handcuffed her, another woman arrived at the scene. She identified the elderly woman as Martha Al-Bishara, an 87-year-old grandmother. She identified herself as Al-Bishara's daughter-in-law. She explained that Al-Bishara does not speak English, suffers from dementia, was was cutting dandelions in the woods to put in a salad for her husband.

Al-Bishara legally immigrated from Syria to the United States twenty years ago. It might sound unusual to put dandelions in a salad, but reportedly this is a common recipe in their culture. There were no dandelions in Al-Bishara's lawn, nor at the store, explained Martha Douhne, her granddaughter, in an interview with WTVC. So, she ventured into the vacant lot, a place she had picked plants before.

Douhne says her grandmother did not understand the officers' commands, and that using a taser was unnecessary. "Obviously, my grandma did not look violent," said Douhne. "With the three, four officers that were here, I think they could have controlled her in other ways." Her family agrees. "If three police officers couldn't handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge," said Solomon Douhne, Al-Bishara's great-nephew.

Martha Al-Bishara was charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of a police officer. After spending two hours in jail, she was released, and taken to the hospital. "She is okay," said Martha Douhne. "She is still repeating the incident over in her mind and telling us she didn't mean for this to happen and apologizing that she didn't want to bring this on us. She is having trouble sleeping and is stressed."

The police chief believes his officers' actions were justified. When the taser was pointed at Al-Bishara, "that's kind of the universal command for 'stop,'" said Etheridge. "An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer," Speaking with the Daily Citizen-News of Dalton, he stated, "There was no anger, there was no malice in this. In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time."

The Chatsworth Police Department is conducting an internal review. Jeff Dean, attorney for the Al-Bishara family, told CNN, "It would appear that the officer's use of force was unreasonable." The family is considering possible legal action. Police bodycam footage of the incident exists, but Dean has not seen it yet.  Al-Bishara is scheduled to appear in court on September 19.