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7th Circuit affirms judgment for officers in diabetic man’s case

August 29, 2011

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City of East Chicago and police officers on an estate’s excessive force and other claims, finding the officers had reasonable suspicion that a diabetic man who was having a hypoglycemic episode was possibly intoxicated.

The estate of Jerome Clement sued the City of East Chicago, its police department and the chief of police for wrongful arrest, excessive force, failure to train police officers, and condoning the use of excessive force. Clement was a diabetic and had an episode in August 2006 while driving, in which he ended up incoherent and unresponsive in a parking lot. Police called to the scene thought he was intoxicated, as he had bloodshot eyes and they smelled alcohol in the car.

Clement did not respond to commands and gave incoherent responses, so police used mace and batons to subdue him and put him in handcuffs. While trying to handcuff Clement, he began to flail and hit his head against the payment. Police later called an ambulance after seeing blood on his face. The paramedic found his blood sugar to be low and Clement was taken to the hospital. He died of natural causes two weeks later.

During the incident, Clement wasn’t wearing a medical identification necklace or bracelet, and police didn’t check his pockets to see that he had a card noting that he was a diabetic.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the federal claims and remanded the state claims to state court.

In William Padula, administrator of the estate of Jerome Clement v. Timothy Leimbach, et al., No. 10-3395, the 7th Circuit panel, noting that they respectfully recognize the tragic circumstances surrounding Clement’s death, affirmed summary judgment. They found the District Court correctly concluded that the officers had probable cause to arrest Clement because they had probable cause to believe he had driven while intoxicated. The police dispatcher indicated that Clement was intoxicated and some of the officers smelled alcohol in his car. Clement had bloodshot eyes and didn’t comply with requests to get out of his car. These are similar characteristics to that of someone who is intoxicated, wrote Judge Joel Flaum. The judges also noted that Clement wasn’t wearing a medical identification necklace or bracelet that would have alerted the officers that he was diabetic.

Also, officers didn’t call an ambulance because they suspected Clement of having a medical episode, as William Padula contended, but did so because of the blood on Clement’s face.

The District Court was also correct to conclude that the officers’ use of force wasn’t excessive. There’s no evidence that police threw Clement to the ground, or used more force than necessary to control the situation and handcuff Clement. And while Padula pointed to Clement’s death, presumably as evidence of the excessive force, the coroner’s report stated Clement died of natural causes, wrote the judge.

Padula’s claims for failure to adequately train the officers and for condoning and ratifying excessive force fail because the underlying claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force also fail, wrote Judge Flaum.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the decision to remand Padula’s remaining state law claims to state court.

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