May v. CITY OF NAHUNTA, Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2016
What happened: The plaintiff was frustrated and exhausted to the point of physical illness from caring for an elderly relative. An ambulance was called, but the police showed up to take charge of the situation, as they increasingly seem to do these days in cases of possible medical emergency. Although plaintiff wanted rest instead of medical care, a policeman decided to order the plaintiff to be taken into custody because plaintiff: (i) “been clasping her fists;” (ii) “scruffing and hitting herself in the head;” and (iii) “her hair was all over her head in disarray” (internal quote marks omitted). The policeman forced the woman to change clothes at gunpoint while he watched.
Decision: The policeman (Officer Tommy L. Allen of the Nahunta, Georgia police department) does not get qualified immunity with respect to the rough and rude manner in which he forced plaintiff to change clothes. “Indeed, if established, Officer Allen’s conduct is representative of the type of unnecessarily invasive and demeaning intrusion that is undoubtedly within the sphere of what the Fourth Amendment prohibits.”
Comment: Opinion finds that the policeman had “arguable probable cause” to take plaintiff into medical custody. This is interesting, first, because it seems a bit novel to use the term “probable cause” used in terms of describing the probability that a medical emergency (as opposed to a criminal law violation) exists. Second interesting thing is that the “arguable probable cause” seems really weak here. It seems to me like one should be allowed to hit one’s own head and even ball one’s hands into fists without police interference. Free expression and all that. I wonder what kind of medical bill they tried to saddle the plaintiff with.