Picture this: You’re a police officer, it’s 8 a.m. and you’ve just pulled over a suspected drunken driver. He ignores your request to shut off his engine and instead presses the accelerator.
He behaves erratically. Says he just wants to go home. But his Ford Bronco is stuck in dirt and it's going nowhere. You know you cannot let him drive off as he may be a danger to himself and others.
Or this: You’re a 65-year-old man experiencing a diabetic medical crisis. You’re pulled over by Bakersfield police officers. But you’re disoriented, confused. You’re yanked forcefully through the open driver’s-side window, brought to the ground and handcuffed. By the time it's over, your face will be a mess of bruises and scrapes.
This incident, which occurred on the morning of April 6, 2015, in the 6200 block of Gosford Road in southwest Bakersfield, is the subject of a lawsuit filed against the City of Bakersfield and four officers with the Bakersfield Police Department.
Attorney Frederick Kumpel, representing the diabetic driver, Michael Wilson, says his client harbors no bitterness toward the police, who faced a difficult situation in dealing with a man whose mental faculties had been compromised when his blood sugar level dropped precipitously.
The injuries his client suffered were not permanent.
Wilson wants to settle the lawsuit for a modest sum, likely less than fighting the lawsuit will cost, Kumpel said. In addition, his client is asking the BPD to institute additional training to help officers recognize and deal with patients suffering diabetic episodes.
“These are good officers,” he said of Richard Bittleston, Justin Enns, Chad Ott and Adam Garcia, the four named in the lawsuit.
“But on that day, on that morning, they failed to meet the standard.”
Kumpel said he believes the officers assumed his client was drunk and never considered there might be an underlying medical cause of his uncharacteristic behavior.
“Whether even a drunk driver deserves such a beating, of course, is an issue that need not be resolved at this point in time,” Kumple wrote last month in a court filing in an attempt to settle the lawsuit.
Mick Marderosian, the attorney representing the city and the officers, dismissed Kumpel’s request for a settlement, saying the lawsuit itself “is offensive to me.”
The entire incident could have been avoided had Wilson done a better job of managing his blood sugar levels, Marderosian said. Instead, Wilson chose to get behind the wheel when he knew he was endangering himself and others on the road.
And when officers encountered a motorist who would not follow repeated instructions to turn off his engine, who instead tried to drive away, the situation became immediately dangerous — to officers, to Wilson and to the public.
“Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the police officers,” Marderosian said. “What should they have done? Stand down and let him drive away?
“If that had happened and another member of the public had been killed or injured, then we would have seen a major lawsuit.”
According to the lawsuit, Wilson noted that when he woke up the morning of the incident his blood sugar was elevated to a very high level. “He brought the blood sugar down to a normal level using a short acting insulin," according to the court document.
He drove to the jury services office to request an extension of his jury duty.
The complaint reads: "Wilson started to drive home. Noting that his glucose level was dropping, Wilson opened a can of Glucerna."
Glucerna is a drink that helps manage blood sugar levels in persons with diabetes.
Marderosian’s contention is that Wilson was at fault because he didn't manage his condition in a reasonable manner.
And Marderosian said the can of Glucerna in Wilson’s truck remained sealed. It had not been opened.
When pressed — as that information conflicted with the narrative in the complaint — Marderosian sent The Californian an audio recording of a BPD sergeant's interview of Wilson at the scene of the incident.
In the interview, Wilson confirms the Glucerna can was unopened. Wilson told the officer he didn't think his blood sugar had gotten that low. But that he may have been drinking a Coke Zero.
It appears the narrative in the lawsuit differs from what Wilson told the officer, Marderosian said.
The incident has left Wilson $12,700 in debt for hospital, ambulance and other costs, according to the complaint. According to the police report, no criminal charges were filed against Wilson.
In a previous settlement request, Wilson and his attorney offered to sign off on the case for $58,000. Kumpel said his client has agreed to cut that number by nearly half should the BPD agree to begin additional training in recognizing the signs of a diabetic crisis.
Judging from comments from the other side, that doesn’t immediately appear to be likely.