Wells v. County of Stanislaus, et al. (E.D. Cal., settled 2010)
The parents of James Wells filed a lawsuit against the Stanislaus County (California) Sherriff's Department alleging that the deputies used excessive force in violation of the their son's constitutional rights. The complaint alleges that Wells experienced a tonic-clonic seizure and, as a result of post-ictal confusion, wandered from his home and attempted to enter his neighbor's house. When police officers arrived, Wells was not responsive to their commands because of his impaired consciousness. In an effort to subdue Wells, police officers struck him in the throat and attempted to wrestle him to the ground. When these efforts were unsuccessful, he was tased several times and beaten. When Mr. Wells fell to the ground, he was face-down; police handcuffed him behind the back, applying pressure to his back with their bodies . A short time later, Wells stopped breathing and died.
The action alleged that the deputies violated Mr. Wells's constitutional rights by using excessive or deadly force and sought compensatory and punitive damages. The action also claimed that the Sherriff's department was at fault because of its failure to properly train and supervise its officers regarding the use of force (including restraint) when confronting persons experiencing seizures. Based on the facts alleged, it appears that, due to the lack of such training, the deputies assumed that Mr. Wells was intentionally combative and possibly high on illicit drugs.
The parties reached a confidential settlement in 2010.
Orehek v. Janusz (D. Co., settled 2006).
Plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Constitution. He further alleged that the defendants violated Colorado State law by committing assault and battery against him. The events giving rise to these allegations stemmed from the response of the police and EMT personnel after they were called to the scene by the plaintiff's fiancé. When these parties arrived, the plaintiff had experienced a seizure and was in a post-ictal state of confusion. The plaintiff alleged that the police and EMTs were aware of these facts, and yet they still used force to restrain him when he attempted to walk away. The plaintiff never made any violent gestures; however, he allegedly was continually struck and eventually handcuffed and placed in custody. As a result of this encounter, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered emotional distress and aggravation of both his epilepsy and an existing shoulder problem.
The plaintiff sought compensatory and consequential damages (for emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering), punitive damages, and trial and attorneys' fees. The parties entered into a settlement.
Estate of Becerra v Metropolitan Government of Nashville, filed July 13, 2005 ( M.D. TN) (complaint).
The Nashville Emergency Medical Response Team responded to a call for assistance placed by Mr. Becerra's grandmother (with whom he lived). The complaint alleges that upon arriving, EMTs forced Mr. Becerra onto his stomach, and he started vomiting. EMTs then allegedly hog-tied him, using medical gauze to tie his hands and feet together behind his back. By the time, Mr. Becerra stopped struggling, and no longer had a pulse. It is also alleged that this treatment occurred despite the fact that Mr. Becerra's grandmother informed the EMTs that Mr. Becerra had a seizure disorder. The parties eventually reached a confidential settlement.
Villanueva v. Township of Bloomfield (NJ Superior Court, settled).
As alleged in this lawsuit, Santiago Villanueva, a native of the Dominican Republic who lived in New York, experienced a seizure on April 16, 2002, at the garment factory where he worked. He was arrested. According to Bloomfield, NJ police reports, officers and EMTs, responding to a 911 call, deemed Villanueva combative and, at times, unresponsive to simple verbal commands – common signs of certain types of seizures. The responders acknowledged using some force to bring Mr. Villanueva under control. The police restrained Mr. Villanueva by placing pressure on his back and neck, despite insistence by his co-workers that such force was unnecessary. Mr. Villanueva stopped breathing at one point during the incident, but started again before reaching the Columbus Hospital in Newark, where he died. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be homicide by mechanical asphyxiation. The case was settled for $2 million.
Parks and the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Darby Borough (E.D. Pa., Settled 2000)
Ronald Parks experienced a tonic-clonic seizure in his home, and his son called 911. When the police and paramedics arrived, Parks was unresponsive and the first responders ignored his family's cautions that Parks had epilepsy. Instead, the first responders, apparently believing Mr. Parks was acting aggressively, tackled him to the floor, placed him in a choke hold, and handcuffed him. As a result, Parks suffered a pinched nerve, an injured lip, and partial paralysis on one side.
The complaint, filed against a municipality, an ambulance service, a police training commission, and individual police officers and paramedics, alleged Section 1983 claims, based on the police officers' use of excessive force and the municipality's failure to provide appropriate training, as well as ADA claims and negligence claims (based on paramedics' failure to provide appropriate care). The case eventually settled.
The settlement required the police training commission to establish, in collaboration with the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a training curriculum for police on seizure management, and ensure that training is provided by certified instructors.The training commission also agreed to pay reasonable attorneys fees.
Request for Production of Documents by Mercy Health System – seeks records regarding training of EMTs
Jardine v. Tempe (Arizona Superior Court, settled 2003)
Representatives of the estate of John Jardine, IV, a student who died at Arizona State University following a seizure on campus, filed suit, alleging that his death was caused by EMTs' use of excessive and inappropriate force. At trial, evidence supporting the following facts was presented: The decedent experienced a seizure in his college class, and his fellow students called 911. When the EMTs arrived on the scene just after the seizure halted (knowing that the call had been dispatched as a seizure), Mr. Jardine was confused (common soon after a seizure), and apparently did not comply with EMTs' orders to remain seated. EMTs, misinterpreting behaviors associated with his seizure as combative, forcibly restrained Mr. Jardine and handcuffed him behind his back. The EMTs forced Mr. Jardine to the floor, applying pressure to his shoulders, arms and legs to immobilize him, and strapped him face-down (prone) on a gurney while still handcuffed. En route to the hospital, the EMTs noted that Mr. Jardine had stopped breathing and had no pulse. The handcuffs could not be unlocked, as the key remained with a security guard on campus. Mr. Jardine was pronounced dead by emergency room physicians shortly after his arrival at the hospital. Attorneys representing Mr. Jardine's family argued and presented expert testimony that this prone restraint caused Mr. Jardine to die of asphyxiation.
In 2003, one of the defendants, Arizona State University, reached a settlement with the family in which the University agreed to pay $800,000 and establish a scholarship for students with disabilities. On November 17, 2005, following a trial involving other defendants, a jury issued a verdict finding that the EMTs involved were not responsible for the death of Mr. Jardine.
Stetter v. Village of Hanover Park (N.D. III., settled)
Representatives of the plaintiff's estate filed suit alleging that the defendants violated the decedent's Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force when responding to a 911 call for assistance. The complaint alleged as follows: The decedent, who was in a post-ictal state at the time, was forcibly restrained and handcuffed by police and EMTs before receiving any type of medical care. Pressure was applied to the decedent's neck, back, and shoulders, and he was placed face-down on a gurney. He was found to be without a pulse while still in the home, but no attempt to resuscitate the decedent was made before the EMTs reached the ambulance. A large monetary settlement was paid to plaintiff's estate.
Request for Document Production, Hannover Park Fire District – requests for, among other things, personnel files and training records
Request for Document Production Officer Weil – seeks, for instance, information on police reports and training
Interrogatories for Paramedic Sode/Hannover Park – explores training procedures and other matters
Gates v. Broomfield County, et al. (D. Co., settled 2008)
A 42-year old man died when he was restrained in his home by paramedics and police officers. The responders were called to the home by the man's wife, who witnessed her husband having a complex partial seizure. According to the complaint: Responders attempted to prevent the man from leaving his bedroom, forcing him onto his bed face down. At least one responder applied pressure with a knee to the man's back to restrain him and they handcuffed him behind the back at the same time. They also administered medication to arrest the seizure. Responders transported the man to the ER, at which time he was unconscious. He was placed on life support for 36 hours. The treating doctor indicated that the man had been suffocated. The complaint sought compensatory, punitive, and deterrence damages and attorneys' fees. The parties reached a confidential settlement.
McDermott v. City of Philadelphia, CA #78-549 (E.D. Pa. 1978). (Complaint).
Should the police be required to train officers in seizure recognition so that they are less likely to charge a person having a seizure or other medical event with criminal behavior? The Epilepsy Foundation argues "yes" in this Complaint, where it explains that the forcible arrest, denial of medication, and physical abuse of an individual while he was experiencing a seizure violates state and federal law and shows the need for training.