We have another case of officers arresting a distraught family members at the scene of an accident. This one involves James Rourke of Doylesburg, Pa., who had rushed to the scene after he learned that his 19-year-old son Freddy was in a serious car accident with a friend and still trapped in the car. The photos from the scene are horrific. If he thought things could not get much worse, Rourke was wrong. The arrival of two officers lmer Hertzog and James Erme would result in Rourke’s arrest and charges with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
Rourke had been told by emergency medical staff to give them the medical history of his son as crews waited for power to be turned off to complete the rescue. Rourke had just finished doing so in the middle of the highway when Hertzog and Erme arrived. Witnesses have said that they were extremely rude and used vulgar language in telling Rourke to move away — even further back than other onlookers. Hertzog grabbed Rourke and shoved him back. Rourke and his daughter insist that he grabbed the officer to stop from falling backwards. The officers called it a shoving match and threw him to the ground — one sitting on top of him with a knee in his back..
The officers only got off the 59-year-old man when a neighbor begged them and told them that he had a heart condition. Erme says that in the course of the take down, he was struck in the thigh and nose.
The son was in a coma for a long time and is now listed in serious condition. The father faces aggravated assault, simple assault and “failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order.”
We have seen such arrests and even uses of tasers on distraught family members in other cases (here and here and here and here). I understand the need to move people back from an accident scene, particularly with the dangerous combination of an electrical wire and gasoline in the area. Moreover, I am even willing to assume that the father refused or was combative in being told to back up. However, witnesses insist that the officers showed no appreciation or sympathy for a father at the scene, including using vulgar language. I also fail to see why prosecutors and police did not consider such obviously mitigating circumstances in dropping these charges. We have often seen that any contact with an officer can be over-charged as assault (here and here and here and here and here). Even if there was a shoving match and resistance, this appears to be a case where a distraught father was trying to see what was happening to his son, who was dying only feet away. Rourke has no criminal history and a stellar reputation in his community. At a minimum, the police should look at how these officers handled the situation and prosecutors should seriously consider dropping the charges against Rourke and allow his family to deal with the long recovery of his son.
For the original story, click here.