SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) – Good intentions or not, a cop may be liable for allegedly insisting that a 15-year-old who threatened suicide go to the emergency room with her mother, a federal judge ruled.
Wright Township police got a call in September 2009 after Nicole James told a friend via text message that she planned on killing herself with ibuprofen because she had split with her boyfriend, according to her suit.
When officers arrived at the James home, Nicole allegedly admitted sending the text but denied taking the pills.
Believing what their daughter said, Nicole’s parents, Cheryl and Warren James, say they “wished to handle the matter internally,” among the family.
But the officers allegedly insisted that James go to the hospital, saying the parents would be charged with “assisted manslaughter” if “something happened to Nicole because they did not send Nicole to the hospital with the emergency medical services personnel” at the scene.
“Cheryl and Warren, justifiably and reasonably believing themselves to be compelled by law to do so in reliance upon the statements of the Wright Township Police officers,” gave permission for Nicole to go with the emergency workers, according to a complaint the family filed in July 2010.
The parents say they also ceded to the officers’ insistence that at least one of them accompany Nicole to the hospital. Cheryl tagged along, even though she felt disoriented from medication she had taken earlier in the night, according to the suit.
A hospital screening subsequently showed that Nicole had not overdosed on ibuprofen, the family says.
U.S. District Judge James Munley ruled last week that Wright Township Police Officer Michael Marshall cannot use qualified immunity to shield claims of false arrest and false imprisonment.
Even if Marshall was acting “to ensure the well being of a distraught teenager,” as he has professed, “a reasonable police officer should have known that he cannot use his police authority to force unwanted action upon someone,” Munley wrote.
At this state in the litigation, the James’ allegations must be accepted as true, but evidence that turns up in discovery could paint a different picture. “It may well be a jury question whether defendant Marshall forced plaintiff to leave her home or whether he merely convinced her to go voluntarily,” the judge said.