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Diabetic Shocker: Jerome Clement Civil Rights Claims Dismissed

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 30, 2011 4:05 PM

Diabetic drivers, wear your medical alert bracelets.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that two East Chicago police officers did not act unreasonably in roughing up and arresting a diabetic driver who was suffering from a hypoglycemic episode.

Jerome Clement was an insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic. His blood sugar periodically dropped, which could cause Clement to phase out, fall to the floor, and flail his arms in a non-combative manner.

On August 24, 2006, while driving to work, Clement turned his vehicle into the parking lot at a scrap yard and stopped on or near a truck scale. An employee approached and asked him to move, but he appeared not to hear what the employee said and responded in incomprehensible gibberish. Someone called 911 to report the incident. Clement eventually passed out at the wheel.

When East Chicago police officers arrived, they observed that Clement was unresponsive and his car smelled like beer, though there were no open containers. When Clement did not comply with their commands to step out of his car, the officers physically removed him, maced him two or three times, struck him four times with a baton to place handcuffs on him and prevent him from kicking his legs and flailing his arms, and kept him in the prone position until a paramedic arrived.

The paramedic recognized Clement's condition and eventually got him to a hospital, where he died of natural causes roughly two weeks later. In addition to state law claims for wrongful death and negligent hiring and training, Clement's estate filed a civil rights lawsuit against East Chicago and the police department alleging excessive force and wrongful arrest.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the officers had probable cause to arrest Clement because they believed that he had driven while intoxicated, and there was no evidence that the officers should have known that Clement was diabetic. The Court, giving deference to the officers' snap judgments, found that the record did not include evidence of excessive force given the circumstances. One reason Clement's civil rights claims were dismissed? The record indicated that Clement was not wearing a diabetic necklace or bracelet.

While Clement's civil rights claims are dead, the Seventh Circuit remanded the claims for wrongful death and negligent hiring and training to the state court. Jerome Clement is a sympathetic victim; we suspect that East Chicago will settle the state claims with his estate rather than push the case to trial.

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