A tragic altercation at the hospital

Aldaba v. Bd. of Marshall Cnty. Comm’rs, Nos. 13-7034 & 13-7035 (10th Cir. Feb. 4, 2015).

Johnny Leija was in the hospital with severe pneumonia, which can deprive the brain of oxygen. This, in turn, can affect the patient’s frame of mind—which is just what happened to Leija. At the hospital, he became so uncooperative and aggressive—at one point announcing that he was God and Superman—that the staff called the police for help. 

When the police showed up, Leija was walking in the hall. He pulled out the IV ports on his arms and said, “this is my blood,” as he shook his fists. The police ordered him to get down on his knees. He refused, even after being warned that he would be tased. Leija was tased, but this didn’t seem to affect him, and he began to struggle with the officers. The officers pushed him up against a wall and tased him again. This shock again proved ineffectual, but the officers were still able to push Leija to the floor, handcuff him, and allow a nurse to inject him with Haldol and Ativan. At this, Leija went limp, grunted, and vomited clear fluid. Nurses immediately began administering CPR, but they could not save Leija. A doctor and medical examiner later testified that shooting Leija with a taser and putting him on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back could have reduced his already-compromised ability to get oxygen. 

Leija’s mother sued the police for administering unconstitutionally excessive force. The majority of this Tenth Circuit panel—taking into account the degree of danger that Leija posed to himself, his poor mental and physical condition, and the fact that Leija wasn’t trying to flee—holds that the case must go to a jury. Judge Phillips dissents, asking, “What else should the officers have done?”