Saturday, February 03, 2007

Kansas City Police Have Also Played Judge, Jury & Executioner

According to the lawsuit filed on Friday in Kansas City, police denying or impeding treatment of a female suspect in dire need of medical attention is not something unique to Tampa. This time, though, the woman was pregnant, and the officers ignored her nine separate pleas for help in the first five minutes after her arrest for traffic violations and outstanding city warrants and went on to ignore at least twelve more requests, despite her repeated, heart-wrenching statements (there's video at the link if you can stomach it) that she was bleeding heavily. The woman was taken to jail, and when she was finally released the next morning, she suffered a full miscarriage.

Two Kansas City police officers repeatedly ignored a pregnant woman’s claims that she was bleeding and needed medical help, a police videotape released today shows.

Sofia Salva told officers nine different times during the first five minutes of the stop that she was bleeding or wanted to go to a hospital. After the ninth request, a female officer asked: “How is that my problem?”

Salva requested help at least 12 more times during the 30-minute encounter nearly a year ago. The officers arrested her for traffic violations, including a fake temporary license tag, and outstanding city warrants.

The next morning, after finally being released, she delivered a premature baby boy who lived one minute, according to a lawsuit Salva filed Friday.

“The officers went into this with a preconceived idea of who and what they were dealing with and they were wrong,” said Salva’s attorney, Andrew Protzman. “It’s tragic.”

The lawsuit prompted police to open an internal investigation.

Are there not some sort of universal guidelines for police procedure when a suspect is herself the victim of a violent crime or is clearly and urgently in need of medical care? I would have thought it patently obvious that when someone is bleeding profusely, anyone in a position to help--like those officers who have, you know, sworn an oath to serve and protect us--should deal with that first and worry about traffic warrants later, but then, I'm just a mother who instinctively reacts to the sight of profuse fucking bleeding by seeking medical attention.

Certainly it seems only logical that the first step of due process for a suspect should be to make sure her process of staying alive doesn't get interrupted.

(via Jessica at Feministing, where a couple of the comments lead one to wonder if there are human beings out there who've never been in the terrifying position of needing emergency care.)

UPDATE: Due in no small part to the Kansas City Star's coverage of this travesty as well as the procurement of the police dashboard video, the officers involved are now suspended indefinitely with pay. The Star deserves praise for its role in bringing this horrible abuse of power to light. As their columnist Mike Hendricks noted yesterday:

How many times was it that Sofia Salva announced that she was hemorrhaging while she was being arrested at Ninth Street and Brooklyn Avenue?

Many of us won’t soon forget the answer. Twenty-one times over the course of 30 minutes, the pregnant woman told officers Melody Spencer and Kevin Schnell “I’m bleeding” and feared a miscarriage.

She asked to go to a hospital.

And yet the two officers acted as if the Sudanese native had said nothing to them about that.

They ignored her repeated requests and focused on arrest warrants out on her for minor offenses and the phony temporary license tag in her window.

Callous, cruel and indefensible.

Even more appalling was Spencer’s retort to Salva’s pleas for help:

“How is that my problem?” the officer said.

Actually, it’s not a bad question. It’s the crux of this issue.

Aren’t Kansas City police required to take seriously pleas for medical help from someone they’ve arrested?

When reporters asked that question, department officials pointed to a list of policies and procedures on the KCPD Web site.

Specifically, the second one from the top: Procedural Instruction 98-7, “Ambulance Calls and Arrests Taken to Hospitals.”

Lockhart says it’s clear.

Section C says “Officers will procure transportation for a sick or injured person when requested or appropriate.”

But that’s it.

No elaboration in a nine-page document that focuses on all the details that come after cops make the crucial decision.

None of this can justify the decisions and actions of the two Kansas City police officers whose suspensions were announced Thursday. They should have had the good sense and humanity to seek medical help for Salva. You can’t watch that video without wanting to scream, “Help her, for God’s sake.”

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