Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Pulaski, TN Officer Chad Estes mishandles situation with the obstetrician

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Case: WYNN v. CITY OF PULASKI, No. 1:11-0025 (M.D. Tennessee, February 11, 2013)


At approximately 8:50 p.m., on May 5, 2010, Dr. Wynn received a call at her residence, instructing her that she was needed at the hospital. Specifically, she was informed that a patient was “complete” for delivery, which Dr. Wynn understood to mean that it was an emergency because the patient could deliver at any time.

In response, Dr. Wynn headed towards the hospital in her automobile which was plated with Michigan tags.1 Nothing on the vehicle indicated that Dr. Wynn was a physician, or affiliated with Hillsdale Hospital.

As Dr. Wynn drove down First Street in Pulaski, she was passed by Officer Estes who was traveling in the opposite direction. At the time, Dr. Wynn had the vehicle’s emergency flashers on.
Officer Estes claims that Dr. Wynn’s vehicle was clocked by radar as going 46 miles-per-hour in a 30 miles-per-hour zone. He turned around and initiated a traffic stop.

At 9:21 p.m., Officer Estes radioed dispatch, telling them he had stopped a vehicle with Michigan license plates. Officer Estes then approached the driver’s side window of the vehicle and asked Dr. Wynn for her driver’s license and proof of insurance. At the time, Dr. Wynn was dressed in hospital scrubs, and a lab coat was lying next to her in the passenger seat.

Dr. Wynn told Officer Estes that she could not find her driver’s license, and handed him hospital identification, but he said, “No, I need your driver’s license.” She then found her Michigan license and handed it to him.

Dr. Wynn claims that as Officer Estes was coming towards the driver’s window, she waved at him to hurry up to the vehicle and told him, “I’m in a hurry,” and “my patient is going to deliver,” or words to that effect. She also told him that, if he did not believe her, he should follow her to the hospital and, if necessary, arrest her there.

Officer Estes claims that he told Dr. Wynn “that she wasn’t free to go,” and when Dr. Wynn took off (while he still had her license in his hand), he ran back to his vehicle, jumped in, and pursued her. For her part, Dr. Wynn does not recall what Officer Estes said. She does claim, however, that, after telling Officer Estes he could follow her to the hospital to sort things out, Officer Estes agreed and went back to his squad car, and Dr. Wynn resumed her trip to the hospital with Officer Estes following at a high rate of speed.
At around 9:24 p.m. both vehicles arrived at the hospital, and Officer Estes, with the vehicle’s lightbar activated, pulled in behind Dr. Wynn’s car in the physician’s parking lot. Here, again, the parties dispute what happened next.

Officer Estes claims he immediately got out of his car, went to Dr. Wynn’s car, and, when the driver’s door opened, told her she was under arrest. Officer Estes then asked Dr. Wynn to place her right hand behind her back and, when she did not comply, grabbed her left arm and placed a handcuff on it. He then used an “escort technique,” whereby, with both of his hands on Dr. Wynn’s cuffed left arm, he guided her to the front of his vehicle and forced her against the car so that he could place the cuff on her right wrist.

Dr. Wynn, however, remembers things quite differently. She recalls that when she arrived at the hospital, she immediately jumped out of her car and, without acknowledging Officer Estes, “rushed” towards the hospital’s entrance. Officer Estes grabbed one of her wrists, “slung” a handcuff on it, and, in the process, cut her arm. According to Dr. Wynn, Officer Estes then slammed her against the hood of his squad car, pressing her face, chest and waist onto the hood of the vehicle. Dr. Wynn was pressed up against the vehicle for maybe several minutes, during which time Officer Estes’ crotch was in direct contact with her rear end or legs.6 In the process of being cuffed and thrown up against the car, Dr. Wynn claims that her lower back was injured.

Once handcuffed, Dr. Wynn was instructed to get into the back of Officer Estes’ squad car. Dr. Wynn claims not to have struggled or tried to physically resist Officer Estes’ commands at this point, but admits that she did not get in willingly.
By the time Sgt. Young arrived on scene, Dr. Wynn was already handcuffed and being escorted to the back of Officer Estes’ vehicle. Sgt. Young claims that Dr. Wynn was not complying with the instructions to get into the car, and so Officer Estes applied pressure to her shoulder to get her to comply. Once in the vehicle, Dr. Wynn complained to Sgt. Young that the handcuffs were too tight, but he ignored the complaint.

During this period, Sgt. Young spoke with a hospital supervisor, Jennifer Waybright, who had come outside to see what was happening. When Sgt. Young asked Ms. Waybright if another obstetrician could be summoned and, if so, how long it would take for that doctor to arrive, she responded that it would take approximately 30 minutes.7 Sgt. Young told Ms. Waybright to call that doctor because Dr. Wynn was headed to jail.

Dr. Wynn was transported to ths sheriff’s office where she arrived at 9:41 p.m., and the handcuffs were removed. Officer Estes began preparing a criminal summons against Dr. Wynn for speeding, felony evading arrest, resisting arrest, no insurance, a vehicle registration violation, and a driver’s license violation. While doing so, he received a phone call from John Dickey, the Chief of Police, who instructed him that Dr. Wynn was to be released from custody immediately so that she could return to the hospital to deliver the baby. Dr. Wynn was released on her own recognizance, some thirty minutes to an hour after arriving at the sheriff’s office.8
As a result of the incident, Officer Estes was suspended from the police force for one month, and placed on administrative leave for an additional thirty days. Sgt. Young was suspended for seven days. In disciplining the officers, Chief Dickey determined that, “it seems to be readily apparent that neither Officer Estes nor Sergeant Young used their better judment [sic] when evaluating the circumstances as it relates to the actions of Dr. Wynn versus the immediate need of medical attention for her patient.”

Written by Burgers Allday

February 16, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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