Cops vs. diabetics

Here’s a too-familiar story from Texas:

A 70-year-old man claims he was severely beaten by a pair of cops after he stopped on a Texas road because he fell into diabetic shock.

Thomas Mathieu said he only remembers pulling over in a turning lane in San Antonio before the Jan. 13 scuffle with police that put him in a hospital with three broken ribs and several cuts and bruises to his body.

“None of it adds up, because I am basically a gentle person,” he told WOAI-TV.

“Why in the world would they do this?”

A video of the encounter that was recorded by a police cruiser’s dashboard camera was recently released to the news station and shows the moment officers find Mathieu slumped over the wheel of his car.

The footage shows the officers ordering Mathieu out of the car and threatening to pull him out if he ignored their commands.

The police say Mathieu tried to shift his car into gear, which seems unlikely, given what they learned later.

During the struggle to get him out of the car, one officer can be seen punching Mathieu several times in the face. But the wild ordeal continued until they got the man lying face down on the ground.

“How much have you had to drink tonight?” the officer asks.

“Nothing,” Mathieu tells him.

“What’s going on with you today?” the officer said.

“Nothing,” Mathieu again tells him.

“Nothing? Why were you sleeping behind the wheel, sir?”

It wasn’t until a minute later that an officer asked Mathieu if he was a diabetic and learned that he was suffering from a medical condition.

The officers were, of course, cleared of any wrongdoing. There are a couple of problems here. The first, and more problematic, is the cops’ instinct to beat someone who doesn’t immediately follow their commands — that is, their failure to consider the possibility that someone may be disobeying for non-threatening reasons. The second is the more specific failure to recognize that someone is in diabetic shock. The effects of diabetic shock can sometimes resemble intoxication. Training can help prevent mistaking one for the other. But for whatever reason, it seems that too many cops aren’t getting that training. Or if they are, they aren’t heeding it. This is far from the only example.

From October, 2012:

Rough treatment of diabetic driver raises questions about N.J. State Police training

February, 2012:

Police Beat Man in Diabetic Shock – and Nevada City Pays for It

October, 2013:

Georgia Police Kill Diabetic Man After Family Calls 911 For Ambulance

July 2013:

Police Under Fire for Cuffing Woman Having a Diabetic Attack

April 2014:

Family questions Tampa police account of diabetic driver’s death

February 2012:

Video shows officers beating motorist in diabetic shock

February 2014:

Innocent Deaf Man Tasered, Beat By Police During Diabetic Attack

March 2012:

Diabetic College Student Tased by Police While in Shock Now Suing

December 2010:

Diabetic Driver Claims Police Pulled Him Over During Diabetic Emergency and Tasered Him Seven Times

July 2013:

Woman Having Diabetes Attack Handcuffed, Left On Ground By Police

October 2012:

Diabetic Cleburne Teen Hit With Taser After Crash

 

Diabetes Mine, a patient advocacy Web site, offers some insight as to why these incidents keep happening:

In 2007, the [American Diabetes Association] released a 20-minute training video to help address this issue (available to purchase in its entirety through the ADA for just $3, or viewable on YouTube in three parts). That video stemmed from a Philadelphia lawsuit settlement and served as a jumping off point for the advocacy organization to target this topic nationally. Many police departments did request the video and used it in training, {American Diabetes Association legal advocacy director, Katie] Hathaway says, but those requests eventually dwindled, and by now, only occasionally trickle in. Most of the current queries the ADA receives on this issue come from people facing these incidents or from other advocacy organizations and entities, but rarely from the police themselves . . .

The ADA also struggles to have enough resources available to push for better police information and training across the nation. “When you think of the pure number of law enforcement officials, police and sheriff departments around the country… it’s a challenge,” Hathaway says. “We have a legal advocacy staff of six people who cover all kinds of discrimination issues. Three of those staff – myself and two lawyers who work for me – respond to the circa 250 calls we receive to our 1-800-DIABETES hotline each month.”

We also queried Dr. Daniel Lorber, Director of Endocrinology at the New York Hospital of Queens in New York City, who chaired the writing group that developed the ADA position statement on driving with diabetes. He said that his experience consulting on diabetes police training and testifying in court shows that police are still lacking what they need in D-training.

“It’s not widespread enough,” he said. “This is a problem around the country with police not knowing about hypos or what to do. Yes, maybe things have improved just because there’s more public attention. But not by much, and there’s still a lot of work to do.” . . .

Sadly, two leading law enforcement training organizations – the National Law Enforcement Association and National Law Enforcement Training Center – didn’t respond to our requests for their thoughts on this topic. Maybe that reflects the kinds of roadblocks the ADA faces from law enforcement authorities.

The thing is, it should not be left to advocacy groups such as the ADA to provide this training for police agencies. They should be seeking it out themselves. That’s true not just for diabetes but for other medical conditions as well.

 

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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