Sunday, December 02, 2007

If Only They'd Just Tased Him, Bro

According to physician Catherine Wilkerson, she made the mistake of attempting to save a man's life, and now might just go to jail for it.

(That link, by the way, is a particularly biased writeup of the story. You might be able to get a more even-handed version from Michigan Live or the Ann Arbor News, but those links tend to die pretty fast.)

The official description of the event is fairly straightforward. Blaine Coleman is a Michigan activist who regularly protests on behalf of the Palestinian cause and against Israel. He was attempting to disrupt a speech at the Michigan League by Georgetown University Prof. Raymond Tanter regarding the American policy in Israel. He was escorted outside to be arrested. While there, he complained he couldn't breathe and appeared to fall unconscious.

According to the report, Wilkerson was "verbally abusive" to the police and paramedics who treated Coleman, and that was why they arrested her. The building manager, Jeffrey Green, said that she was protesting, yelling at the police, and that her behavior was "more of an emotional reaction than a physician's reaction."

Dr Wilkerson's description, widely available on the internet under the title Scenes From A Cop Riot, seems to differ slightly from the official view of her actions.

She wrote that the cop, who was much larger than the protester to begin with, had the man pinned down and was crushing him against the floor with his knee backed by his full body weight. Dr Wilkerson felt that the protester would not be able to inflate his lungs in that position, and when the protester stated that he couldn't breath, she identified herself as a doctor, and instructed the cop to turn him over immediately.
The cop turned him onto his back. I saw that the victim had a wound on his forehead and blood in his nostrils. He was unconscious.

Reiterating numerous times that I was a doctor, I tried to move to where I could assess the victim for breathing and a pulse. The cop shoved me, until finally, after my imploring him to allow me to render medical care to the victim, he allowed me to determine that the victim was alive. But he refused to remove the cuffs despite my requests. A person lying with hands cuffed beneath his body risks nerve damage to the extremities and, moreover, cannot be resuscitated.
The protester remained unconscious, and the paramedics were called in. But Dr Wilkerson didn't feel that the paramedics were any better than the cops.
When the patient didn't respond to a sternal rub, one of the paramedics popped an ammonia inhalant and thrust it beneath the patient's nostrils. If you're interested in what's wrong with that, google Dr. Bryan Bledsoe… and read his article condemning this dangerous practice. That it's "just bad medicine" is sufficient to make the paramedic's actions unacceptable, but what happened next made my blood curdle. He popped a second inhalant and a third, then cupped his hands over the patient's nostrils to heighten the noxious effect. "You don't like that, do you?" he said.
Trying to google the article by Dr Bledsoe she mentions, This Procedure Stinks [Ammonia Inhalant Use], won't do you much good: although you can track it to the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, it doesn't even seem to be available on Dr Bledsoe's own website. However, the basic conclusions are available here.

Although she was forcefully restrained by the police, she was neither handcuffed nor arrested. But two months after the protest, and one week after she filed a police brutality complaint (she claims to require physical therapy for the injury she suffered at the hands of Ann Arbor police officer Kevin Warner) she was charged by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie's office, at the request of the UM police, with two attempted felonies—one against Officer Warner and one against the EMS personnel.

Although her cause is gaining support on the internet, is this a case of an overly-officious doctor interfering with law enforcement? (After all, this isn't the first time she's had issues with authority.) Is this another example of law enforcement going over the top?

I suspect that the real truth lies somewhere in between.

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