Millions of people around the world suffer from bipolar disorder. They move from manic to depressive phases quickly, which can make life difficult for them and their loved ones. The condition can often be controlled with medication, but the process takes time as the patient and doctor try to perfect the prescription and dosage. The goal is to level out the emotional peaks and valleys so the patient can maintain a consistent quality of life.
That happy medium is exactly what Kyle Branson* was trying to achieve. Kyle’s doctor had taken him off his medication because he was experiencing negative side effects, including severe nausea. Kyle’s bipolar symptoms were likely to appear again, but it was all part of the adjustment process.
Kyle’s manic episode
One night during that adjustment period, Kyle was doing his laundry. We’re not really sure why, but as he left the laundromat, Kyle was jumped by four or five men. When the police came to break up the fight, they handcuffed everyone, including Kyle. Once they figured out he was the victim and not a perpetrator, they let him go. Even without the added complication of Kyle’s medical condition, it was a harrowing experience.
Kyle, who was badly shaken, got in his van and began to drive home. On the way, he felt increasingly disoriented and pulled into a church parking lot. He’d been sitting there a while, when a police cruiser pulled in to investigate his van. Kyle got out and asked the officers if they could help him get a wrecker. Rather than help Kyle, the officers mockingly replied that they weren’t AAA. Kyle then asked if they could take him to a hospital. Again they refused him help, and began questioning him. When Kyle decided they weren’t going to be of any assistance, he headed back to his van.
The officers pursued Kyle, ordering him to answer their questions and to get out of the van. But Kyle sat there, disoriented and frustrated, holding onto the steering wheel. Reaching through the window, one of the officers tried to pry his hands off the steering wheel, but Kyle tightened his grip. This resistance—albeit nonviolent—infuriated the officers. One officer swung at Kyle with his baton in an attempt to get him to exit the vehicle. When that didn’t work, the other officer took out his service revolver and shot Kyle in the stomach.
Instead of getting help from the police in his time of need, Kyle got shot and nearly died. After a month in the hospital and a surgery to reconstruct his abdomen, Kyle recovered. He was left with a foot-long scar from sternum to navel that would forever serve as reminder of that terrible night.
A civil rights case
Law enforcement officers have what’s known as qualified immunity. It protects them from constantly being second-guessed or harshly judged for decisions they have to make in a split second. Because of this, it requires some extraordinary facts and delicate nuances for an officer to be held liable for using excessive force and thereby violating a citizen’s constitutional rights.
As we dug into this case, we uncovered some discrepancies with the police officers’ story which contributed to the department’s willingness to reach a settlement. The officers fabricated a story about Kyle resisting arrest after being sprayed with mace, to make it seem as though their excessive use of force was legitimate. No mace residue was found in the van, however. What’s more—Kyle had applied to be a police officer a few years prior and had his application denied because of his severe allergic reaction to mace.
The officers also claimed that Kyle attempted to attack them from inside his van with a flashlight. No flashlight was found in the investigation, and no marks were found on either officer.
Perhaps the most significant bit of information we learned was that the officers had received no training from the department on how to deal with people going through emotional or mental distress. They essentially had been trained to treat them like any other intoxicated or disobedient person.
Right before going to trial, the police department settled. In addition to the settlement, the case also helped lead to a change in Ohio law enforcement policy. Now, if officers believe a citizen is suffering from an emotional or mental condition, they are required to stand down and call Netcare, a Central Ohio organization that specifically helps people with special needs. And that’s a positive outcome for anyone who might find themselves in a similar position to Kyle’s in the future.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.