(CN) – Redwood City police officers may have used excessive force when arresting “Mr. Natural Universe” Douglas Burns, a federal judge ruled. The professional bodybuilder says he was pepper-sprayed, beaten with nunchuks and ultimately taken down by several policemen, who thought Burns was high on drugs or alcohol when he was actually suffering from a severe diabetic attack.
The takedown happened on April 7, 2007 at a movie theatre, after Burns’ blood sugar began to plummet and “he could no longer remember what film he came to see or even clearly read the print listing the available screenings.”
By the time he reached the refreshment counter, all he was able to tell the sales clerk was that he needed sugar, a request that confused her and caused her to turn him away.
According to the facts outlined in U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg’s ruling, “Burns then maneuvered toward a soda fountain, where he proceeded to fill a paper cup partially with soda, pour it out, and repeat the process.”
Suspecting Burns was “on something,” a nearby police officer enlisted the help of two others in subduing Burns with pepper spray and nunchuks, eventually forcing him into handcuffs.
While one of the officers claims to have “felt threatened” by Burns’ behavior and “hulking physique,” Burns was finally able to explain to the officers that he was diabetic and in need of sugar.
He insisted that his medical alert bracelet was clearly visible to the officers, but “all officers deny seeing the bracelet on his wrist.”
Burns sued in June 2008, claiming the incident caused permanent nerve damage “that has effectively curtailed his bodybuilding career.”
While Seeborg found Burns’ behavior gave officers probable cause to arrest him, “a reasonable jury could conclude that the officers employed unreasonable force in light of Burns” relatively harmless behavior.
Seeborg denied the City of Redwood’s request to drop the claim, also ruled that it remains to be seen whether the officers’ use of pepper spray and nunchuks was unconstitutional.