CHICAGO (CN) - Paramedics may be liable for forcibly hospitalizing a man who refused medical attention, a federal judge ruled, recounting an undisputed record showing emergency responders put their patient in a headlock, rammed his head 20 times into an ambulance wall and taped him up "like a mummy."
Howard Travis had just undergone neck surgery at a hospital in June 2008, when he went to a grocery store on the South Side of Chicago. Feeling faint and sweating profusely, Travis sat on a store display and attracted the attention of a store manager who called 911.
Once paramedics Eileen Keiper-Knapp and Todd Czarnecki arrived on the scene, however, Travis said there was nothing wrong with him and that he did not need help.
Nevertheless, the paramedics picked him up by his arms and legs and forced him into the ambulance. Many of the facts of the case are undisputed, according to the court.
Travis screamed at the paramedics to let him out, whereupon one of the paramedics choked him, put him in a headlock and rammed his head into the wall of the ambulance 20 times.
On the way to the hospital, Czarnecki stopped the ambulance near a fire station as Keiper-Knapp claimed Travis was punching her. Travis was ultimately acquitted on charges that he criminally assaulted Keiper-Knapp. He says he never touched her and "has no idea" how she was injured.
When Travis tried to get out of the ambulance, a paramedic twisted his arm and said, "I'll break this mother fucker if you don't stop."
The paramedics forced Travis onto a stretcher and taped him down, using so much tape he "looked like a mummy." Then one of them beat Travis' face and punched him in the stomach.
When the ambulance got to the hospital, a firefighter handcuffed Travis to the bed, and staff took blood against his will. Travis reiterated that there was nothing wrong with him and that he wanted to go home.
After Travis sued the two paramedics and the city of Chicago for violating his constitutional rights, the defendants moved for summary judgment on his claims for excessive force and conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall ruled last week that both allegations should go to trial.
The judge dismissed the defendants' argument that the paramedics were not acting "under color of state law" to deprive Travis of a federal guaranteed right.
"The improper force that the paramedics allegedly used against Travis was unquestionably 'related' to their official duties; indeed, the force was used, in part, to control Travis so that the paramedics could complete their duties," Kendall wrote.
"In certain situations, the paramedics have the authority to restrain patients and to take them to the hospital against their will," she added, but a jury must determine whether the paramedics had that authority in Travis' situation.
Travis also has enough evidence at this juncture to claim conspiracy between the paramedics. "A reasonable jury could find such an agreement," Kendall wrote.
A trial is set for April 16, 2012, at 9:15 a.m.
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