Attorneys release video of 87-year-old woman hit with stun gun by Chatsworth police officer

Attorneys release video of 87-year-old woman hit with stun gun by Chatsworth police officer

June 18th, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Breaking News

Attorneys for Martha Al-Bashara have released videos of body camera footage showing the after effects of a confrontation last year, when an officer shocked Al-Bashara with a stun gun. (Screenshot of Facebook video)

Photo by Facebook video screenshot

This story was updated Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at 10:08 p.m. with more information and video.

Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge and Officer Steven Marshall picked dandelion leaves away from Martha Al-Bishara's cupped hands, bound behind her back.

Al-Bishara, then 87, had picked the leaves with a steak knife from a field behind the local Boys & Girls Club across the street from her house. Her grandchildren said she wanted to garnish a salad. After a worker at Boys & Girls Club called 911, reporting this mysterious, knife-wielding woman, Etheridge and Marshall found her in the back lot, near the fence.

Taser incident 911 call

According to body camera footage released Tuesday afternoon by Al-Bishara's attorney, the officers stood only a couple of feet in front of her. They shouted commands. But Al-Bishara, a Syrian immigrant, speaks little English, her grandson said.

"Throw it down!" the officers yell. "Throw it down! Throw it down! Throw it down! Drop it! Throw it down! Drop the knife! Drop the knife or you're going to get Tased! Put the knife down! The knife! Drop it! Drop it! Drop it now!"

The third officer was about 20 yards away, making it difficult to see what happens in the space between Al-Bishara, Etheridge and Marshall. In his report, Marshall said she took steps toward him. He thenĀ deployed his stun gun, striking her in the chest.

Al-Bishara quickly fell, the video shows. Etheridge and Marshall lifted her up as she moaned.

"Why did you not stop?" Marshall asked her.

The officers pulled her hands behind her back and locked her in handcuffs. They continued to try to speak to her in English, but Al-Bishara responded in Arabic. At one point, after Al-Bishara pointed out her home, the third officer attempted Spanish.

"Casa?" he asked her.

About seven minutes later, Al-Bishara's daughter, Widad Douhne, arrived at the home, located in the 700 block of North 7th Avenue. She did not know about the confrontation and had come to visit her parents. An officer was trying to tell Al-Bishara to get in the back of a police car, so they could drive her to the Murray County Jail to book her on charges of criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer.

Martha Al-Bishara

Martha Al-Bishara

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"You need to ask her politely to sit in the van," an officer told Douhne.

"She will," Douhne said. "But she's an old lady."

"Oh I get it," the officer said. "I get it. But you can't have knives."

"OK," Douhne said.

"Just tell her to sit down and we'll talk to you," a second officer told Douhne.

"Try and translate and tell her to sit in the car," the first officer said. "Because we don't want to pick her up and force her."

Al-Bishara's attorney, Jeff Dean, said Tuesday night he is in the midst of a negotiation with Trident Public Risk, the insurance company that represents Chatsworth, over the August 2018 arrest. Attorneys for the company have only sent him one offer, which he deemed "unsatisfactory."

"They're just paying really the cost of litigation, just to try to make it go away," Dean said. "They didn't really want to compensate her for what she went through."

Dean said Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston gave him a copy of the body cam footage "at least six months ago" during a meeting, when the prosecutor also supposedly said he would not prosecute Al-Bishara. Dean said he has not received formal notice that the charges are dismissed, and Poston did not return an email Tuesday evening.

Timothy Douhne, her grandson, said Al-Bishara is not as vibrant as she was before the showdown. She is ashamed, and she has begun taking medication for depression. Her husband, Azar, 97, died June 1. They had been married for 73 years.

Timothy Douhne said Al-Bishara is from a small village outside of Daraa in southern Syria. Azar farmed oranges, lemons and grapes. During the offseason, for extra money, he photographed families in Syria and Jordan, traveling to assignments by foot with a pack mule. Al-Bishara, meanwhile, raised nine children and looked after elderly residents in the community.

Her son-in-law, Solomon Douhne, immigrated to the United States in 1979. After graduating from Lee University, he taught physical science and chemistry at Murray County High School for 45 years. Timothy Douhne said Solomon taught the officers who arrested Al-Bishara.

Solomon Douhne's wife, Widad, sponsored Al-Bishara and Azar's immigration to the United States in 1995.

"They came to help and support my mom and live here – a better quality of life," Timothy Douhne said. "They wanted to help take care of the family."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 orĀ tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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