AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
Public Protection: Ill Persons
Law Journal Article: Public Protection - Part 1:
The Physically Ill, 2013 (5) AELE Mo. L. J. 101.
Monthly Law Journal Article: Public Protection: Part Two – The Mentally Ill or Deranged, 2013 (6) AELE Mo. L. J. 101.
A man suffered a diabetic emergency. Paramedics encountering him found him to be extremely disoriented and combative. His blood-sugar level tested extremely low at 38. As blood sugar falls, a person may lose consciousness, become combative and confused, or suffer a seizure. A blood-sugar level of 38 is regarded as a medical emergency and, untreated, can lead to death. A deputy sheriff arrived on the scene as the paramedics were attempting to intravenously administer dextrose to raise the man’s blood-sugar level to a more acceptable level. The man then ripped the catheter from his arm, causing blood to spray, and continued to kick, swing, and swear as they tried to restrain him. The deputy then used his Taser in stun mode on the man’s thigh, quieting him long enough for a paramedic to reestablish the IV catheter and administer dextrose, stabilizing his blood sugar level. The man denied being in pain, but was taken to the hospital. No treatment was given for the Taser wound. He claimed that he suffered burns and that his diabetes worsened, and sued for excessive use of force. He later died from complications of diabetes. A federal appeals court overturned a denial of qualified immunity to the deputy for his use of the Taser. He acted in an objectively reasonable manner with the minimum force necessary to bring the man under control, enabling the paramedics to save his life. The case is notable for setting forth a different test for judging the objective reasonableness of the force used by an officer in medical situations than the standard test under Graham v. Connor, #87-6571, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), used in a criminal context. The three factor inquiry in Graham looks at (1) “the severity of the crime at issue,” (2) “whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,” and (3) “whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” In the situation faced by the deputy in this case, however, there was no crime, no resisting of arrest, and no direct threat to the officer. Accordingly, a strict application of the Graham factors could result in a determination that the force was not objectively reasonable. Instead, the court held:
Where a situation does not fit within the Graham test because the person in question has not committed a crime, is not resisting arrest, and is not directly threatening the officer, the court should ask:
(1) Was the person experiencing a medical emergency that rendered him incapable of making a rational decision under circumstances that posed an immediate threat of serious harm to himself or others?
(2) Was some degree of force reasonably necessary to ameliorate the immediate threat?
(3) Was the force used more than reasonably necessary under the circumstances (i.e., was it excessive)?
the answers to the first two questions are “yes,” and the answer to the third
question is “no,” then the officer is entitled to qualified immunity.