Police officers and authorities will be investigated when a suspect in custody suffers from an injury or death. In a tragic case, a 23-year-old was pulled over and arrested for a suspected DUI in Lee County before he died in a holding cell a few hours later. According to officers, the victim was arrested on a Friday and placed in a holding cell for the evening. The corrections staff did not report that the alleged DUI defendant showed any signs of medical issues at the time he was placed in the holding cell. A few hours later they found him unconscious and lying on the floor.
While placing intoxicated detainees in holding cells is standard practice throughout Alabama, the case raises questions about police misconduct and the correctional facility’s failure to meet certain standards of care. Our Birmingham DUI attorneys are dedicated to providing informed and strategic advocacy to protect the rights of DUI defendants from an arrest, through interrogations, and at trial. We understand the serious nature of a DUI arrest and will work to minimize the consequences of a criminal charge. If we cannot defeat the underlying charges, we will work to minimize penalties upon conviction.
After a suspected drunk driver is apprehended, the next step for law enforcement is to place them in a holding cell inside the booking area. Law enforcement authorities have claimed that this is standard practice, even for defendants who exhibit signs of intoxication. In this case, the defendant’s body has been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lab in Montgomery for an autopsy. The results of the autopsy could determine whether law enforcement officials may be implicated. In addition to criminal charges for any misconduct, the correctional facility could potentially face a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.
Once a suspect is taken into custody, police have a duty to protect that defendant from injury or harm. In the past few years, a number of cases have shed light on the risks of suffering an injury or death while in police custody. A Florida man died after getting Tasered, a Missouri woman died from blood clots after complaining of her pain, and a California man died after getting beaten with police batons. Whether the injuries resulted from force inflicted by officers or natural causes, these cases deserve an immediate and thorough investigation. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 600 people die every year while in police custody. Any injury that results while in police custody may be grounds for a civil rights complaint if the force was considered unreasonable. These defendants may be able to recover significant compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
Every case is unique and demands a thorough investigation to determine liability. Unfortunately, some jurisdictions give police officers immunity from lawsuits which can make it difficult to take legal action. Actions that would be considered illegal by a citizen could be considered “reasonable” if committed by a police officer. Similarly, to prove negligence in a case involving a medical injury would require demonstrating that the correctional facility knew or had reason to know and failed to act. This could be a challenge if the normal course of duty is to simply leave an intoxicated person in a holding cell. The autopsy results should shed light on this tragedy and help the victim’s family determine the best course of legal action.