Eugene Wright sat in examination room No. 5 at the Meadville Medical Center in western Pennsylvania and for the umpteenth time told the two police officers guarding him that he was not the man they were looking for.
He was not, he insisted, the psychiatric patient of the same name who allegedly had threatened to harm himself and others during a doctor’s visit that morning, Wright says in a federal lawsuit. He had been at work all day; the officers were making a terrible mistake, he warned.
“We have the right person,” one of them allegedly responded.
Moments later, over Wright’s objections, a nurse entered and injected him with a dose of powerful antipsychotic medication, sending the 63-year-old into a drug-induced blackout that lasted more than half a day.
Only after it was too late did the officers and staff members at the hospital discover that they had, in fact, arrested and drugged the wrong man, according to the lawsuit Wright and his wife filed Wednesday.
In a 29-page complaint, Wright alleged that police and health workers failed to take basic steps to verify his identity during his June 15 arrest and hospitalization. He says they ignored him when asked repeatedly them to check his driver’s license and social security card or call his relatives.
“The experience that I went through, this should never happen to anybody. It’s very simple to check ID,” Wright told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “These people need to be held responsible.”
The lawsuit alleges violations of his constitutional rights, assault and battery, negligence and other claims. It names as defendants the Meadville Police Department and its officers, the medical center, and a health crisis center involved in the incident.
Police declined to comment to local news organizations. The other defendants didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment Thursday morning.
Wright said he had just gotten home from work at as a customer service representative for Advance Auto Parts the afternoon of June 15 when two officers and a health crisis worker approached him outside his house.
They asked if he was Eugene Wright. He responded that he was and asked if there was a problem.
According to the lawsuit, one of the officers told him that a Eugene Wright had gone to an orthopedic doctor’s office “threatening to hurt himself and other people.” There must be some sort of mix-up, Wright told them, offering to have his colleagues at Advance Auto Parts vouch for him.
The officers refused. One of them frisked him and cuffed his hands behind his back, according to the lawsuit.
On the trip to the hospital, Wright asked over and over again to show his ID or Social Security card to prove he was a different Eugene Wright, his lawsuit says. He also asked to call his daughter or wife, to no avail.
When they reached the Meadville Medical Center, officers took him into the examination room and uncuffed him. He pleaded with a doctor to check his identification. His lawsuit notes that he had been a patient at the hospital earlier in the year, so he had medical records on file that would vindicate him. The doctor refused his request, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the doctor told Wright “that when a person has mental problems and loses his temper, sometimes that person cannot remember doing so” and said “he believed that was the case with Plaintiff Mr. Wright.”
Exasperated, Wright took his wallet out of his pocket and threw it at one of the officers.
The doctor ordered Wright to be injected with intramuscular Haldol, an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia, and Ativan, a common anti-anxiety drug, according to the lawsuit. For 10 minutes, Wright resisted, then gave in when officers threatened to hold him down if he didn’t consent to the shots, Wright alleged.
The drugs worked fast. “Things were starting to get pretty fuzzy” for Wright, according to the lawsuit. How long he sat in the examination room, dazed and sedated, he’s not sure.
At some point his daughter arrived at the hospital and encountered two officers standing outside the door. There had been a mistake, she told them: Her father had been at work all day. A search of hospital records revealed that, indeed, Wright had not visited an orthopedic doctor’s office that day, according to the lawsuit. But a different Eugene Wright had.
Eventually, one of the police officers admitted they had taken the wrong person into custody, saying police hadn’t verified his address, according to the lawsuit. The officer apologized. So did the doctor, who, according to the lawsuit, only then explained the effects the drugs would have on Wright.
An administrative representative from the hospital also came to say sorry for confining and drugging Wright. To make up for it, the representative gave him a $50 gift card to Montana’s Rib and Chop House, Wright alleged.
Wright wasn’t lucid enough to remember his wife coming to pick him up, nor did he recall leaving the hospital, the lawsuit says.
He got home around 5:30 p.m. and lay down on the couch. The next 12 to 14 hours were a blackout, according to the lawsuit, which says Wright remembers nothing from that period.
Two employees from the health crisis organization dropped by the Wright house the following evening to see how he was doing. His wife told them he still didn’t know “who he was or where he was” because of the drugs, according to the lawsuit.
The same employees returned a day later and brought him a $25 gift card to Walmart. Wright’s lawsuit says he had no recollection of them visiting the night before.
The whole ordeal left Wright rattled. He can’t sleep, doesn’t feel comfortable being left alone in his home, and has had such trouble eating that he has lost 40 pounds in the six months since his arrest, according to the lawsuit.
“I was powerless. I had no control of anything that was going on down there,” he told local news station WPXI on Wednesday. “It scares me. It can happen to me again, being there’s another Eugene Wright in Meadville.”
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