An international civil rights organization is arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that police officers can’t let a suspect whom they’ve shot multiple times die without trying to render aid.
The Rutherford Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Patti Stevens-Rucker’s complaint on behalf of the estate of Jason White against the city of Columbus, Ohio.
Police shot White, a military veteran, multiple times, then “let him bleed to death rather than rendering emergency aid,” Rutherford said.
“The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that police satisfy their constitutional obligations to assist a person they injure in the course of an arrest simply by calling for an ambulance to transport the arrestee to a hospital. In asking the court to hear the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that if prisoners have a constitutional right to medical care under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, then police should be held to a comparable standard in their treatment of arrestees who require urgent medical attention.”
Rutherford President John W. Whitehead, a constitutional attorney, said: “While this case demands that police officers be made to abide by the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, it also demands that they be held to a higher moral law – that of basic decency, humanity and a truer understanding of what it means to be a public servant.”
Whitehead said common decency “demands that the police not merely stand by while a person endures the pain of serious injury.”
“As the Supreme Court itself has recognized, such disregard for human suffering is ‘incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,'” he said.
White was a decorated veteran who served in Iraq. He suffered psychological trauma during his time in the military.
He was hospitalized many times for paranoid schizophrenia and depression, the case explains.
“Although a VA doctor who examined White on November 14, 2013, found that he was delusional and deteriorating, White was released for outpatient care. Three days later in the midst of a delusional episode, White entered the home of a woman in the early morning hours. The woman woke to find White confused, shirtless, holding a knife and believing himself to be in his own home,” Rutherford said.
The woman called police when White left the home, and the first officer tased White.
White was fleeing when other officers shot him in the shoulder, back and then chest as he lay on the ground.
Rutherford said White “was clearly in need of immediate medical assistance and in danger of bleeding to death.”
“However, although police on the scene were trained in first aid and CPR, the officers did not provide any aid and instead simply called for an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived 15 minutes later, White was dead.”
The brief explained, “Some situations demand immediate medical aid that can only be provided personally by police officers because they are already present at the site where the detainee lies injured.”
It continued: “Officers are trained to exercise judgment in fraught situations that can involve serious injuries, whether inflicted by themselves or others. When they recognize the need for medical assistance and are able to provide it, they should be expected to do so.”
The filing asks the Supreme Court to reverse the 6th Circuit’s dismissal.