(CN) – Chicago cops may be liable for not helping a man who had suffered a heart attack as they took him into custody, even though that man was a retired officer himself and complained of chest pains, a federal judge ruled.
Eddie Hodges worked as a beat officer in Chicago for 35 years before retiring in July 2006.
In December 2007, he pulled his car up to the rear of a private house to drop off a passenger. The owners of the house, the Orr brothers, pulled their car up behind Hodges’ vehicle, believing that Hodges had burglarized their home. Even after confirming that no one had broken into their house, however, the Orr brothers kept Hodges blocked in for four hours.
Hodges said he experienced chest pain and difficulty breathing from the beginning because he initially believed that the Orrs planned to rob him.
From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Hodges “attempted to persuade the Orr brothers to remove their vehicle by telling them that he was a retired police officer and that people of his age do not break into homes,” according to his deposition testimony. Hodges said he had chest pain throughout the encounter. In one 45-minute period, he called 911 four or five times, saying he needed medical assistance or police help.
The police arrived, not in response to Hodges’ calls, but to a call about a person with a gun. Hodges admitted placing his hand on his concealed weapon while arguing with the Orr brothers. When officers Oren McBurnie and Chris Williams arrived at the scene, Hodges said he told them he was a retired police officer and asked the officers to take him to the hospital.
Instead, the officers took Hodges to the police station, where he was handcuffed to a wall while being charged with aggravated assault and failure to register his weapon.
Williams testified in deposition that Hodges remained at the police station for “a while” before he asked to see a doctor. After an ambulance finally took Hodges to the hospital, doctors diagnosed him as having suffered a heart attack.
Hodges filed a federal complaint against McBurnie, Williams and other officers, alleging that they violated his civil rights by denying him medical attention in custody.
The defendants responded that their conduct was not objectively unreasonable and that they were entitled to qualified immunity.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman rejected the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that a trial is necessary to sort out whether the officers acted unreasonably.
She noted that there is a dispute as to when the officers learned of Hodges’ condition. Hodges claimed he asked for medical care when the officers arrived at the Orrs’ home, but the officers contend that Hodges did not show signs of illness or distress.
Since Hodges did indeed suffer a heart attack, however, Coleman said that proved his ailment was serious. She dismissed the officers’ claim that they had no way of knowing Hodges was suffering a heart attack.
“The defendants are obligated to provide medical care to detainees in their custody with serious medical needs, not to diagnose a detainee’s medical condition,” she wrote. “It would be obvious to a lay person that an older gentleman experiencing chest pains should seek immediate medical attention.”
Coleman also rejected the claim Hodges had to go to the police station so officers could inventory his unregistered gun. “The defendants fail to offer any evidence to explain how this police procedure had any impact on their response to the plaintiff’s request for medical attention,” the eight-page decision states.
McBurnie and Williams are not entitled to qualified immunity, the ruling also states.
“The law is clearly established that once a state takes a person into its custody it assumes an obligation to provide for his or her basic needs,” including medical care, she wrote. “The record demonstrates that defendants were aware of their duty to provide medical attention to detainees in need.”