CHATSWORTH, Ga. — CNN reported that the incident took place Aug. 10. in a wooded area in Chatsworth, Ga., where Martha Al-Bishara — a Syrian and who doesn’t speak English — was looking for dandelions in a wooded area, which she uses to make a salad for her husband.
Police were alerted after an employee of a Boys and Girls Club saw Al-Bishara walking along a trail near where she was cutting the plants with a knife, carrying a bag of dandelions and looking for more.
When the dispatcher asked the caller if Al-Bishara had threatened them with the knife, the employee clarified that the old woman did not seem to pose a threat to anyone.
Two Chatsworth police officers showed up on the scene accompanied by Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge. They repeatedly asked Al-Bishara to drop the knife, but she did not. The officers wrote in their report “Her demeanor was calm, even when we had our guns out.” They noted that they used hand gestures to demonstrate that they wanted her to drop the knife, but she still did not comply.
The officers told local News Channel 9 that they even used their own knives to try and demonstrate what they meant to Al-Bishara. When none of their attempts at communicating worked, they used the stun gun on the woman.
Chief Etheridge told the station that the officers used the “least force necessary” to control the situation. The Chatsworth Police Department acknowledged that the entire situation was caused by a major communication barrier.
Al-Bishara was reportedly helped up by police, arrested, and charged with obstructing an officer and criminal trespass. Both charges are misdemeanors, and she was released on on bond after spending two hours at the Murray County jail.
Family members told Daily Citizen-News that she is recovering from the incident but is now afraid of going outside and is having trouble sleeping.
“You don’t Tase an 87-year-old woman,” Al-Bishara’s great-nephew, Solomon Douhne—a former Dalton, Ga., Police Department officer—told Daily Citizen-News. “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.”
“She had a small kitchen knife and was cutting dandelions in a lot next to her house,” Douhne said. “She was not threatening any kids at the Boys and Girls Club.”
Her daughter-in-law told CNN that Al-Bishara suffers from dementia and only speaks Arabic.
Etheridge has said that an internal investigation of the incident will be conducted, and the officer who deployed the taser, Steven Marshall, remains on duty with no restrictions.
Etheridge defended the actions of his officer to Daily Citizen-News.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” he told the outlet. “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,” he continued. “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.”
Al-Bishara is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 19. Her attorney, Jeff Dean, told CNN that the family is considering pursuing legal action against the Chatsworth Police Department.
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