An All-Too-Common Fact Pattern: Violent Police On Routine Medical Call
Comment: This case shows the ridiculousness of electroshocking a person (on stairs, no less!) to get the person to submit to treatment that will supposedly improve his well-being.
Case: LUCAS v. CITY OF VISALIA, No. 1:09-CV-1015 AWI JLT (E.D. California, May 8, 2013)
On May 1, 2008, Elise Monpere (“Monpere”), Lucas’s then girlfriend and now wife, called 911 for medical assistance for Lucas. Lucas, who had a history of seizures since childhood, appeared to be suffering from a seizure. From his past history, Lucas knew that he was not having a life threatening situation and did not need medical treatment.
Firefighters and ambulance personnel arrived at Lucas’s apartment, and Monpere let the firefighters and paramedics inside where they conferred with Monpere and Lucas. Lucas had drunk 4 to 7 beers earlier that evening and was intoxicated when the firefighters and paramedics arrived. Lucas repeatedly refused medical treatment and told the firefighters and paramedics that he did not want them there and that he did not call for their assistance. Although Lucas was not angry when the firefighters and paramedics arrived, the longer those personnel stayed, the angrier Lucas became. The firefighters and paramedics continued to stay in the residence because a medical call had been made and the personnel believed that they needed to assess whether Lucas was conscious and capable of making his own decisions. Lucas was using profanity and was adamant that the personnel needed to leave and that he did not want any help. The emergency personnel requested police assistance at Lucas’s residence.
Esparza and O’Rafferty were dispatched to the scene in response to the request for officer assistance from the firefighters and paramedics. That is, the officers were dispatched to assist with a “medical call.” The officers received information from dispatch that a 24 year old male was having seizures. The officers were also told by dispatch that Lucas was combative with the firefighters and paramedics.
O’Rafferty arrived at the scene first. As he approached the home, O’Rafferty could see medical personnel outside, huddled around the doorstep outside the home, and could see Lucas sitting on a staircase just inside the front door talking to medical personnel. A majority of the emergency personnel were outside the residence, and O’Rafferty could not remember whether any were still inside the house. The paramedics told O’Rafferty that Lucas had not injured anyone on the scene and that Lucas refused medical treatment. O’Rafferty observed Lucas in angry conversation with other paramedics, and heard Lucas say that he did not want any help. Paramedics told O’Rafferty that Lucas had hit a wall in the home, but O’Rafferty does not recall seeing that incident. O’Rafferty did not discuss any sort of plan with emergency personnel to address the situation, and he could not recall whether the emergency personnel explained that they were trying to assess whether Lucas needed care. Also, when O’Rafferty approached the doorway, he observed that Monpere was at the rear of the house away from where Lucas was sitting. O’Rafferty did not have an opportunity to speak to Monpere.
O’Rafferty entered Lucas’s home. O’Rafferty explained to Lucas that medical personnel were there to try and help and there was concern that Lucas was mentally altered and intoxicated. O’Rafferty observed signs of intoxication, including bloodshot watery eyes and thick speech. nLucas did not appear to be in grave physical danger to O’Rafferty. O’Rafferty understood clearly that Lucas did not want to be treated and that Lucas wanted everyone to leave. Lucas became more agitated and continued to insist that all personnel leave. Lucas had calmed down a bit.
Esparza then arrived, and Lucas became more agitated. Esparza could hear Lucas object to O’Rafferty being in the home, and could see both that Lucas was not in medical danger, and that Monpere was not physically harmed. Esparza did not see any emergency personnel inside the home, and it was her impression that all emergency personnel were outside. Esparza entered Lucas’s home. Lucas clearly told both Esparza and O’Rafferty that he refused medical treatment and requested that all personnel leave his home. Lucas cursed at the officers and emergency personnel. Lucas then turned and began to walk up the stairs and said that he was going to bed and that they all needed to leave. Esparza clearly heard Lucas say this. Lucas continued to curse as he went up the stairs.
Esparza and O’Rafferty were concerned for the safety of everyone in the residence, including Lucas and Monpere, and so followed Lucas up the stairs. Esparza was the first officer behind Lucas as they went up the stairs, and O’Rafferty followed behind Esparza. Lucas is 6′ 1″ and weighs 210 lbs., Esparza is 5′ 1″ and 115 lbs., and O’Rafferty is 6′ 6″ and 230 lbs. Lucas said nothing about getting a weapon and made no threats to the officers, and there had been no mention of weapons by Lucas or anyone on site. Lucas did not make any verbal threats or physically assault anyone in the residence. At no point during the incident did Lucas yell at Monpere. Further, Esparza testified that she believed that all emergency personnel were outside the residence, and she did not know where Monpere was. When Lucas reached the top of the stairs, he was turning around. Esparza believed that Lucas was adopting an aggressive stance when he turned around. Esparza has declared that, at the top of the stairs, Lucas turned around, yelled at the officers to leave, made eye contact with O’Rafferty, clenched his fist, looked at O’Rafferty again, and then lunged forward. Lucas testified that he was not aggressive towards the officers, and that he was tased as he was facing away from the officers and turning around. Esparza did not give Lucas a warning before deploying the taser. The taser darts struck Lucas in the stomach area (in the upper-stomach right of center area and the waist right of center area). The report from Esparza’s taser unit indicates that Esparza administered a cycle of 10 seconds, which means that Esparza held the trigger down for 10 seconds.
Lucas fell to the ground. Esparza told Lucas to roll onto his stomach and put his hands behind his back. Lucas’s body was somewhat tense and his upper body was flexed. In order to gain compliance, Esparza cycled the taser a second time. O’Rafferty has no recollection of Esparza giving Lucas a warning that she would use the taser a second time, but Esparza testified that a warning was given. Lucas complied with the directions to place his hands behind his back after Esparza cycled the taser a second time.
Decision: No qi on excessive force claim. Also, city defendant may be liable on claim that it failed to train its police officers about how to respond to medical calls.