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Lower Merion police tased a Black woman during a traffic stop, drawing controversy and calls for accountability

Police are investigating a traffic stop at which they say an officer tased a Black woman.

A Philadelphia police officer at the Pennsylvania Convention Center wears a taser on his belt on Nov. 4, 2020.
A Philadelphia police officer at the Pennsylvania Convention Center wears a taser on his belt on Nov. 4, 2020.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Lower Merion police are investigating allegations of excessive force after an officer used a Taser on a woman and pulled her from her car following a traffic stop outside a Wawa.

On Sunday afternoon, Lower Merion police officers conducted a traffic stop near the intersection of Conshohocken State and Rockhill Roads in Bala Cynwyd, the department said in a statement. Officers pulled over the driver, who is Black, after a “short pursuit” eastbound on Conshohocken State Road, police said.

The driver had been aggressively tailgating, said Lower Merion Police Superintendent Mike McGrath. When officers approached her vehicle, she did not initially stop, he said, but eventually pulled into a parking lot.

Video circulating on social media that was filmed by a witness shows part of the traffic stop, with officers at the driver’s-side window of a maroon Volvo. An officer ordered the driver to get out of the car and also said she would be arrested for obstruction of justice and would be tased. At one point, an officer was heard threatening to break the window.

A popping sound was then heard, and a witness shouted, “He tased her!”

Lower Merion police said the driver was not compliant and resisted getting out of the car as ordered, prompting the officers to use the Taser. In the video, the driver was seen being led away by officers and taken into custody.

“It was progression,” McGrath said in an interview. “[She] did not exit the vehicle once the door was open. It’s accurate to say [she] was actively resisting as the officers were encountering her.”

Although the driver was tased, she was not injured, he said. An ambulance was called for a passenger with an existing medical condition. The driver was later released, he said.

No charges were filed against the 36-year-old woman, whom police have not identified.

The officer involved in the incident has been placed on desk duty while the department investigates, McGrath said.

The officer’s decision to use a Taser sparked criticism and calls for police accountability. In a statement, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus called the incident “disturbing” and demanded more accountability for police use of force, along with a continuing push for diversity training for police departments and legislative reform.

“This woman’s humanity and rights were disregarded,” the statement said. “She was physically abused by these men and the system that has for years abused Black and brown folks across this commonwealth. We stand with her and every victim of police violence and will continue our work on police reform in the upcoming legislative session.”

Asked about allegations of racial profiling, McGrath said officers often do not know who is in a car until they approach the vehicle. “Quite frequently when cars are pulled over, officers don’t know who’s driving,” he said.

As for the use of force, he said, the officers tried to de-escalate the situation before resorting to the use of a Taser.

“De-escalation is very important,” McGrath said. “It’s something we’ve focused on for some time now. There were attempts at de-escalation.”

According to Lower Merion Township Police’s use of force policy, de-escalation techniques must be used whenever “possible and appropriate” before officers resort to the use of force, including the use of a Taser.

Lower Merion police officers reported using force 32 times in 2021, including four times during traffic stops, according to department data. Of those incidents, the department said, 12 — or 37.5% — involved Black people.