On The Front Lines
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Require Police to Render Emergency Aid After Ohio Police Shoot Military Veteran Multiple Times, Let Him Bleed to Death
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an effort to require police to render emergency aid to individuals they injure in the course of an arrest. In refusing to hear the case of Stevens-Rucker v. Frenz, in which Ohio police shot a military veteran multiple times and then—despite their first aid training—let him bleed to death, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court 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. Attorneys with The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to hear the case, arguing 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.
Affiliate attorneys Anand Agneshwar, Paige Hester Sharpe, and Upnit K. Bhatti of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP, of New York and Washington, D.C., assisted The Rutherford Institute in presenting its arguments in the Stevens-Rucker case.
“If the police don’t have a duty to save lives, what are we paying them for? And who exactly do they serve if not you and me?” asked constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “This case—and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold government officials accountable to at least rendering emergency aid to those who have been seriously injured as a result of their interactions with police—sends the message that in the American police state, police have no duty, moral or otherwise, to help those in trouble, protect individuals from danger, or risk their own lives to save ‘we the people.’”
Jason White, a decorated veteran who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, suffered significant psychological trauma as a result of his military service, which resulted in numerous hospitalizations at Veterans Administration facilities for paranoid schizophrenia and depression. 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. White eventually left the home, and the woman called police. The first officer who arrived at the scene shot White with a taser for not complying with his orders. Although White initially fell to the ground, he got up with the knife still in his hand. White fled after the officer fired at him and missed. Other officers converged on the scene and eventually found White, shooting him in the shoulder as he continued to flee. The police pursued, shooting White twice in the back and then twice in the chest as he lay on the ground. 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. White’s estate sued the police officers, asserting that their failure to provide urgent medical assistance to White as he lay incapacitated and bleeding to death on the ground violated his right to due process under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.