Georgia Police Tase 87-Year-Old Woman Who Was Cutting Dandelion Leaves With Kitchen Knife, Family Says

Police have defended their tasing of an 87-year-old great-grandmother.
Azar and Martha Al-Bishara, who have been married for 71 years. Douhne Family

The elderly woman doesn't speak English and was frightened by police yelling and pointing guns at her, according to her family.

An 87-year-old woman who doesn't speak English was Tased by police after she failed to drop a kitchen knife she was using to cut dandelion leaves, according to authorities.

The woman often walks the neighborhood to collect the greens, which she uses in salads, her great-nephew Soloman Douhne told Wednesday.

Martha Al-Bishara speaks Arabic and is an American citizen who immigrated from Syria decades ago, Douhne said.

"She's a good Christian," who dresses in traditional Middle Eastern clothes of long dresses and head scarves, he added.

Martha Al-Bashara's mug shot. - Chatsworth Police Department

"She's just a typical, sweet grandmother," said Douhne, who was a police officer for three years in the Georgia area where his great-aunt lives. 

A staff member from a Boys & Girls Club called 911 earlier this week, saying there was an elderly woman trespassing on the facility's property, carrying a knife and cutting vegetation, according to the Chatsworth Police Department. 

Chief Josh Etheridge and two officers responded. Etheridge and another cop pointed their weapons at the woman when she failed to comply with their shouts of "Put the knife down! Put the knife down!" according the chief. Al-Bishara continued walking toward the officers.

Etheridge told the Daily Citizen in a videotaped statement that he tried to mime putting the knife down when he realized the woman didn't seem to understand. When she didn't respond, another officer fired his Taser, hitting her in the breast and the stomach.

"She dropped and screamed," said Douhne, who was allowed to read the police report and view bodycam footage, he said. "She thought she was shot, she'd never seen a Taser before. She thought she was going to die. After they pulled the prongs out, they waited for another unit to come to pick her up," he said. 

The elderly woman's hands were bruised by handcuffs, her family says. - Soloman Douhne

She was taken to jail, where she was charged with criminal trespassing and interfering with a police officer, her great-nephew said. She was held in the office area for about two hours before being released to her family, he said. They took her to a hospital to be checked out and then she was taken home.

Etheridge defended his and his officers' actions.

“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” he told the newspaper. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used 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. ... An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”

Her family thinks that's nonsense.

A puncture mark from one of two taser shots to Martha Al-Bashara. - Soloman Douhne

"It blows my mind. I've been in law enforcement," Douhne said. "This lady was not intending any harm. She was not being aggressive. If they had been a little more patient, this wouldn't have happened."

He understands how police officers must make split-second decisions, he said. "I think the officer just got a little bit of tunnel vision, and was focused on the knife and not on the call."

His great-aunt has bruises from the Taser prongs and is banged up from being thrown to the ground, he said. She's still shaken up and doesn't quite understand what happened.

The department has not said whether it will drop charges against the woman, which is what the family would like, said Douhne.

"She is very stressed," he said. "She just keeps apologizing to everyone."