Federal Court Upholds Right of Woman to Sue After Police Officers Tackle Her In Emergency Room During Premature Birth

135px-JSO_BadgeA federal court of appeals has ruled that Melanie Dawn Williams, 24, can sue after she was tackled by Jacksonville, Florida police in a hospital where she was experiencing a premature birth. Once inside the ER and she screamed, “I’m pregnant. Someone help me. I am bleeding.” It took the intervention of a nurse to get the police to release her to deal with her serious medical condition.

Williams was seven months pregnant and a doctor told her to rush to St. Vincent’s Medical Center. When she ran a red light, she was chased by Officers M.H. Sirmons and J.D. Mills who proceeded to tackle her and dragged her outside from the emergency room in handcuffs. Williams was bleeding from the labor and eventually a nurse went outside to force the officers to allow them to give her medical treatment.

Sirmons said that he was told by Williams that she was bleeding but not pregnant. He assumed that she was just trying to get out off a ticket.

By the way, this was not a high-speed chase. Williams actually stopped to speak with the officers and even handed over her identification. She then drove away to the nearby hospital at roughly 40 miles per hour. The entire “chase” took one-minute at 40 mph.

Once again, it is beyond me why this city and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is litigating this case and not settling. The district court rejected their qualified immunity claim and that ruling was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit — allowing her to sue for violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment

For the video, click here.

The panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that officers knew she was in medical distress and could be sued even if she did not mention that she was pregnant.

However, they barred her suing over excessive force, holding that reasonable force was used: “Williams was miraculously not harmed,” the court said. “Although we agree … that the deputies’ behavior was reprehensible, we disagree that the evidence supports a finding that the force was excessive.”

The panel noted:

Under Florida law, necessity or duress is an affirmative defense to the crime of fleeing or eluding a police officer, as codified under Fla. Stat. § 316.1935. See Rowley v. State, 939 So. 2d 298, 300 (Fla. Ct. App. 2006). The elements of the defense are (1) the defendant reasonably believed that a danger or emergency existed that she did not intentionally cause; (2) the danger or emergency threatened significant harm to her or a third person; (3) the threatened harm was real, imminent, and impending; (4) the defendant had no reasonable means to avoid the danger or emergency except by committing the crime; (5) the crime was committed out of duress to avoid the danger or emergency; and (6) the harm the defendant avoided outweighs the harm caused by committing the crime. Driggers v. State, 917 So.2d 329, 331 (Fla. Ct. App. 2005).

In this case, the evidence taken in the light most favorable to Williams establishes that the deputies knew from their interview with her during the traffic stop that Williams was pregnant, bleeding, in distress, and on her way to the hospital for emergency treatment. The deputies, however, detained Williams in order to write a traffic citation. . . . A reasonable officer would have known, given this particular set of circumstances, that Williams’ flight from the traffic stop was justified by the affirmative defense of necessity or duress. For this reason, the deputies lacked arguable — much less actual — probable cause to arrest, even though the circumstances established that Williams met all elements of the offense of fleeing or eluding a police officer. The deputies, therefore, are not entitled to the defense of qualified immunity as a matter of law for Williams’ claim that the arrest was unsupported by probable cause and the district court properly denied summary judgment on this ground.

This is not the first time that a pregnant woman has faced an unsympathetic officer intent on enforcing traffic laws, here.

For the story and video, click here and here.

9 thoughts on “Federal Court Upholds Right of Woman to Sue After Police Officers Tackle Her In Emergency Room During Premature Birth”

  1. This woman passed by 3 other hospitals and ended up going to the hospital on the other side of town. There were 2 hospitals within 7 miles of her location and another prior to crossing river to get to St. Vincent’s. Seriously have to question the distress part. She was a panicky first time mother.

  2. anon,

    I do not disagree with what you said. I think that some people in authority mostly LEO’s use racial profiling and utilize that in order to enhance promoteability. The problem is with moneyed people the way I see it, you’d never know that they have 2 cents to rub together. They do not flaunt it like the newly endowed. Exceptions to the case in point are H.L. Hunt and there are many. Powell was an exception as he was gentile with the officer. Never trying to force who he was or is. The officer over reacted like this case. The usual attitude is “I am the Law and You will Obey me.”

    Except for Powell’s status Moats would not have resigned so quickly. He chose the wrong person to mess with. I think that this is going to happen a lot more in LEO’s affairs. The class distinction is becoming blurred and someone has to pay “Thors” salary.

  3. Anonymous,
    that cop ended up resigning I’m sure to spare the dept. from the embarassment of doing this to a “star” NFL player. Now the woman in this case is a nobody and will have to go through hell getting any redress.

  4. I hope that she wins and wins big, so to speak. This type of abusive behavior from anyone in a position of authority should never be tolerated.

    It is usually shrugged off and nod, nod wink wink don’t do it again type of attitude, but I have you covered. I have not looked at the video and I bet the officer is white and the suspect is a black female only because she is pregnant, do I say that.

    I stayed at a hotel in Jacksonville a few years ago and they do not treat the street people much better, it was reprehensible.

    Not to let Texas be out done by idiots brothers who were at one time governors. In March 2009 we had in Dallas our very own High Rick Chase. This time it was a black man in a nice SUV going across the city line that decided to Pull his gun a little too early. So far to the best of my knowledge no law suit has been filed.

    “DALLAS COP ROBERT POWELL DRAWS GUN ON NFL STAR RYAN MOATS KEEPS HIM FROM SEEING DYING MOTHER IN HOSPITAL”

    This was actually his Mother in Law but the SUV was loaded up with his wife and Father in Law if I remember correctly.
    http://binsidetv.net/2009/03/dallas-cop-robert-powell-draws-gun-on-nfl-star-ryan-moats-keeps-him-from-seeing-dying-mother-in-hospital/

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