A 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.