After responding to a 911 call concerning an 87-year-old woman trespassing and cutting flowers for a salad, a Georgia police chief is defending his officer’s decision to shoot the woman with a Taser despite the fact that the dispatcher was informed that the elderly woman had not threatened anyone and did not speak English. Although a third officer recorded the incident on police body camera, the police chief refuses to publicly release the footage.
At 4:28 p.m. on August 10, the Chatsworth Police Department received a 911 call from an employee at the Boys and Girls Club reporting an elderly woman with a knife who wandered onto the property and appeared to be cutting vegetation. According to the transcript of the 911 call, the employee told the dispatcher that the elderly woman could not speak English and had not threatened anybody.
“She’s old so she can’t get around too well,” the caller told the dispatcher. “But. looks like she’s walking around looking for something, like, vegetation to cut down or something. There’s a bag, too.”
“But she came at someone with a knife though, right, or did she just have it?” the dispatcher asked.
“No, she just bringed the knife onto the property in her hand. She didn’t try to attack anybody or anything,” the caller explained. “We haven’t closed in our fence in the back yet and she walked through there. If you’re able to send anybody, it’s on the side of the property, not the front.”
According to the unreleased body cam footage, Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge and Officer Steven Marshall confronted Martha Al-Bishara, 87, who was holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Ordering the woman to drop the knife, Etheridge aimed his pistol at her while Marshall fired his Taser with the prongs hitting her breast and abdomen.
After Al-Bishara collapsed to the ground, Etheridge holstered his firearm before placing her in handcuffs. The elderly woman reportedly wept while attempting to speak Arabic to the cops.
Al-Bishara was charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer. After spending a few hours at the Murray County jail, she was released on her own recognizance and taken to a local hospital by her family.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” Etheridge told the Daily Citizen-News. “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.
“I completely understand and if I hadn’t been there and it would come across my desk, that is the first thing I would ask as well. 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. An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.
“The question’s always going to be why did he (the officer) not retreat. The thought behind that would be if the officer had retreated, with her being in an elevated position, he could have easily fell down at which time she could have been progressing on top of him and deadly force could have been used at that point in time. And that was the whole goal, to try to avoid using any type of force, but if we have to use force, use the minimum force.”
But family members assert that no use of force was necessary because Al-Bishara had merely wandered onto the neighboring property to cut flowers for a salad that she was making.
“If they would have approached her with an open hand rather than with their guns drawn, she would have handed it (the knife) to them right away,” said grandson Timothy Douhne. “My grandmother is the most kind, generous-hearted woman.”
“You don’t Tase an 87-year-old woman,” said great-nephew Solomon Douhne, a former Dalton Police Department officer. “She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on. 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.”
“This woman don’t bother nobody or nothing,” said Elizabeth Usrey, a local resident. “They keep their stuff clean and don’t bother anyone. I don’t really know what happened, but the woman wouldn’t hurt a fly. Using a Taser on someone that age is ridiculous.”
“There will be a full investigation,” Etheridge stated. “We handle use of force issues internally, and an outside agency would be contacted if we thought a crime had been committed. If someone wanted to contact the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) — and we have been in contact with them to let them know what happened — because they think there was criminal wrongdoing, then we would welcome that. We haven’t requested them to come in. We simply don’t believe there was any criminal activity.”