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Supreme Court sides with 83-year-old woman forced to her knees during traffic stop

WASHINGTON – Elise Brown was a little over 5 feet tall and weighed all of 117 pounds when she was ordered out of her blue Oldsmobile by police in California in 2019.

She was also 83 years old.

The officers who pulled Brown over thought the car she was driving had been stolen – mistakenly, it turns out – and, following their protocol, they drew their handguns, handcuffed Brown and forced her to her knees.

A federal appeals court this year ruled that Brown could sue the police for excessive force, waiving a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity that protects police from liability for civil rights violations in many circumstances.

The Supreme Court on Monday let that lower court ruling stand, keeping Brown's lawsuit alive.

More: Supreme Court sides with police, overturns denial of immunity in two cases

At a time when the nation is grappling with fatal police confrontations, the Supreme Court has mostly balked at lawsuits questioning the legal immunity extended officers. Police organizations have long countered that officers need immunity in cases when they must defend themselves and split-second decisions can lead to unforeseen tragedy.

The Chino Police Department officers argue they were simply following protocols: Traffic stops for potentially stolen vehicles are “high-risk” under city and state standards, they said. Brown was required to kneel for no more than 20 seconds and was in handcuffs for about three minutes, they said.

Police officers are seen outside the visa office of the Chinese consulate, where earlier a vehicle crashed into the building, in San Francisco, California, on October 9, 2023.
Police officers are seen outside the visa office of the Chinese consulate, where earlier a vehicle crashed into the building, in San Francisco, California, on October 9, 2023.

The officers “deployed firearms in states of readiness consistent with their responsibilities on the scene of a high risk stop,” the police told the Supreme Court. Brown, police said, appeared to “be in her 50s or early 60s” and “appeared not to need any accommodation due to health or frailty.”

Brown sued in 2020, claiming the police used excessive force and unreasonably detained her.

“Ms. Brown was terrified, humiliated, and emotionally traumatized,” her lawyer told the Supreme Court. “That conduct was not reasonable; it was extraordinarily dangerous and flatly inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive force.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court backs 83-year-old woman forced to her knees by police