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Supervisor Liable for Failure to Provide Medical Care?

In a case with a fact pattern similar to Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989), the United States Court of Appeal for the 6th Circuit concluded that a police supervisor was not entitled to summary judgment or qualified immunity where a woman in police custody had died. The case, Carter v. City of Detroit, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 9717 (6th Cir. 2005) involved the death of Tori Carter.

Tori Carter and her sister were both arrested on April 18, 2000. The arrest was the result of a fight between the two sisters that resulted in both of them being charged with felonious assault. At the station, Tori Carter informed an officer that she was having chest pains and at some point told officers that she needed her “heart” medication which she had not taken for three days. The “heart medication was actually for heartburn, but the court noted that the officers knew only that it was heart medication. The information was forwarded to a supervisor, David Hollins. Carter received no medical attention and died as the result of a heart attack. An expert witness in the lawsuit is prepared to testify at trial that she may have been saved with prompt medical attention.

In pretrial depositions, Hollins acknowledges that he was aware of some of Carter’s symptoms, but asserted that he told the arresting officer to take her to the hospital. The arresting officer testified that he “did not recall” being told to take her to the hospital. Hollins had also told an investigator following Carter’s death that he had spoken to her about her condition prior to leaving the station early to attend a class.

In refusing to dismiss the lawsuit against Hollins, the court noted that Tori Carter showed the classic symptoms of a heart attack. The court also noted that Hollins was aware of this condition and took no steps to ensure that she receive medical attention. In following previous decisions on medical care of pre-trial detainees, the court concluded that Tori Carter showed signs of a sufficiently serious medical condition and was “demonstrating the classic sign of an impending heart attack.” Further, “there is also evidence that Hollis disregarded the substantial risk of serious harm to Carter’s health.” As such Hollis will have to withstand the scrutiny of his actions by a jury.

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