Escorted from the airport two days in a row for erratic and highly disruptive public behavior, a young woman was taken into custody on the second day for her actions. At the time she was 21 and in college, and had been involved in a serious auto accident the previous year, which either caused or exacerbated an existing mental condition–bipolar disorder. Upon being arrested, the young woman’s mental state was called into question. Despite having spoken to the young woman’s stepfather and mother by phone, both of which disclosed her psychiatric illness, the arresting officer and other state agents deemed her behavior unrelated to a diagnosed mental condition. Rather, most officers and other state actors felt she was either a) under the influence of drugs or b) simply disgruntled and difficult because of her being taken into custody.
The young woman was released from custody on a personal recognizance bond, after displaying some rather disturbing behavior. She was released into the early evening; near a public-housing project with an exceptionally high crime rate, without having her cellphone returned to her; she was dressed in a cutoff top with a bare midriff, short shorts, and boots; and she is a well off white woman while the immediate population is predominately black and not affluent. Thus, the young woman obviously stood out as unfamiliar with the surrounding environment, making her a potential target for crime. To boot, she was released into a neighborhood with many abandoned apartment buildings waiting to be demolished. Vacant apartments, like vacant buildings, render an area more dangerous as they are known to provide a haven for criminals, and, therefore, criminal activity.
While free in this particular downtrodden neighborhood the young woman came into contact with a group of 15-20 individuals. Several young men led her into an uninhabited apartment building a few blocks from the police station she was released. Court records state that the young woman was made aware of her precarious and unsafe situation by the group, and suggested she should leave. The young woman, however, was too confused to act on that advice. Five hours removed from police custody, a man forced the group from the apartment, and raped the young woman at knifepoint. In an effort to escape, or in a further act of assault, the young woman left the apartment through a window; seven stories above the ground below. She may have jumped. She may have been pushed or thrown. Although she survived the sexual abuse and overall horrific experience, she cannot say exactly what happened as she suffered a traumatic brain injury from the fall, permanently reducing her brain function to that of a child.
The young woman’s mother (Plaintiff-Appellee), as guardian of her daughter’s estate, brought suit against the City and 13 police officers and/or civilian aides at the police stations (Defendants-Appellants). The District Court held that some of the police and other state actors are not entitled to qualified immunity. 10 of the 13 defendants appealed the decision in an interlocutory appeal in the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court, holding solely on questions of law, affirmed the district’s court ruling with respect to six of the Appellants, reversed in part with respect to two, and remanded for proceedings with respect to the remaining two Appellants. The Appeals Court noted that whether police should have understood Plaintiff’s daughter’s need for medical treatment is a factual issue, and that only a trial can determine whether any of the non-immune defendants is liable.
What is particularly interesting about this case, and it is an issue discussed in a previous blog entry, is the zone of risk individuals are released into after being taken into police custody. In the instant case it is established that the police and state actors gratuitously put the young woman in danger by releasing her where and when they did, not to mention in a mental state that left her unable to protect herself. Effectively, and needlessly, creating a risk of potential harm that did not exist prior to her being taken into custody.
As our regular readers well know, your Charleston personal injury attorneys are huge sports fans, which, in turn is often reflected in the topics and content of the South Carolina Injury Lawyer Blog entries. Today, a highly commendable tribute has been paid to highly deserving and inspirational young man, former Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand. LeGrand suffered a paralyzing spinal injury on a kickoff against Army in 2010, but has maintained an extraordinarily positive attitude throughout his recovery process. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers honored LeGrand with an undrafted free agent contract. Buccaneers, and former Rutgers, head football coach, Greg Schiano, said, “This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men.”