Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > Topics > Police

Lawsuit: Medics forced epileptic man into gurney; took him to jail instead of hospital

A mother told EMTs not to restrain her son because he gets violent during seizures, but they held him down anyway and police took him to a holding cell, the suit alleges

By Kate White
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Mercer County man was thrown in jail instead of being taken to a hospital after his mother called 911 to report he had suffered multiple epileptic seizures, a lawsuit filed in federal court this week claims.

In February 2012, Patricia Northrup called 911 to report that her 26-year-old son, Christopher, had suffered multiple seizures. When emergency responders arrived, she explained her son's condition causes him to become violent in the "post-ictal state" of a seizure when attempts are made to restrain him. A post-ictal state is an altered state of consciousness that occurs after someone with epilepsy suffers a seizure.

Patricia Northrup told EMS not to restrain her son, but they ignored her and tried to force her son onto a gurney, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court. When Christopher Northrup became violent, paramedics held him down, struggled with him and restrained him in a chokehold.

Mercer County sheriff's deputies John D. Gills and Steven Sommers handcuffed Christopher Northrup and took him to a holding cell at the Bluefield Police Department, the complaint states.

The Northrups are suing three deputies with the Mercer County Sheriff's Department, the Princeton Rescue Squad, emergency responders, the Mercer County Commission and the city of Bluefield over allegedly disregarding Christopher Northrup's medical condition.

Donald Renn, who works for the Princeton Rescue Squad, and Mercer Sheriff's Deputy E.P. Parks are also named in the lawsuit. All of the deputies still work for the sheriff's department, according to Chief Deputy D.B. Bailey, who said he didn't want to comment about the lawsuit because he hadn't seen it. No one from the rescue squad returned a phone call Friday.

The Northrups are also suing nine additional individuals related to the alleged incident who have not yet been identified.

Patricia Northrup gave Gills the seven medications her son is prescribed for epilepsy, according to the lawsuit, but he was never taken to the hospital.

Christopher Northrup was left in the holding cell overnight. In the morning, he was found unconscious on the floor, the lawsuit states. He was taken to Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

"Instead of history involving Christopher's status of an epileptic, the medical notes from the admission note that Christopher was arrested for fighting EMS personnel in Princeton; that he was belligerent and combative," the complaint states. "The medical records note that they were 'not sure about whether he had a normal mental status during this time, but police officer apparently didn't think he was confused.' It was noted upon admission that the onset of symptoms was '3-4 hours ago' and that the 'symptoms came on suddenly.'"

Doctors wrote that when Northrup was admitted to the hospital he seemed to be in the post-seizure altered state of consciousness and that he "had a contusion on his head and bleeding from the nose." Doctors wrote, according to the complaint, his symptoms were severe and "relieved by nothing."

Emergency room staff wrote his condition was deteriorating, would worsen or that he would suffer death if he wasn't transferred to Charleston Area Medical Center. The transfer form indicated Northrup was unable to sign the consent form to be transferred.

According to the lawsuit, when employees with the Princeton Rescue Squad arrived with Northrup in Charleston, they didn't provide medical providers with any information about him. The admission paperwork in Charleston didn't include any past medical history including seizures. The attending physician in Charleston diagnosed him with "altered mental status" and "reported seizures," the complaint states.

EMS also told hospital staff in Charleston that Northrup's first name was "Charlie" instead of Christopher, according to the lawsuit.

Northrup's family wasn't informed he was hospitalized. His mother showed up at magistrate court for his arraignment and he wasn't there. She called the Bluefield Police Department and was told "he got hurt" or that he "might have had a seizure or something," the lawsuit claims. She called the Bluefield hospital and they told him he had been transferred to CAMC and was unresponsive. When she called CAMC, she was told there wasn't a patient named Christopher Northrup, as, the suit states, he was hospitalized as "Charlie."

Christopher Northrup's aunt, a registered nurse, finally found him at the hospital among the patients in the emergency room and told the hospital of his correct name and his complex medical history as an epileptic.

He was quickly admitted into intensive care, according to the lawsuit. By this time, he was suffering acute respiratory failure.

He was discharged four days later. His family told his doctor he was "well below his baseline cognitive function," the lawsuit states. Doctors wrote they were never provided with the prescription medications Patricia Northrup had given the deputy.

"Despite the fact that Patricia Northrup initially called 911 seeking emergency medical help for her seizing epileptic son, informed them of his condition and medical history, and even provided them with his prescription medications, Christopher ended up in a Charleston emergency room with no family or medical history, under an incorrect name," John Bryan, the Northrup's attorney wrote.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
"The physicians were left guessing as to Christopher's medical history."

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Johnathan MacIntyre Johnathan MacIntyre Sunday, February 02, 2014 9:59:04 PM This is just bullshit. Clearly the EMS are covering your asses. Thank goodness the mother called 911. That's going to bite the first responders in the ass. Shame on you all!
Charity Bartoli Charity Bartoli Sunday, February 02, 2014 10:40:15 PM As a WV EMT This is very sad. The amount of neglect given in care of this patient is appalling and was uncalled for. He should have been transported directly to the hospital, possibly with law enforcement to maintain the patient enroute, but not taken to jail. This was completely mishandled, and I feel sorry for this patient and family.
John Gleichweit John Gleichweit Sunday, February 02, 2014 11:07:59 PM Watch it with the blanket statements.
Johnathan MacIntyre Johnathan MacIntyre Sunday, February 02, 2014 11:39:54 PM John I am not in EMS, I am a doctor who clearly can see the EMS forgot their basics of assessments when they failed to get a medical history and current medications. No wonder they had no idea about the patient's medical history. If they opened their ears and listened to the mother instead of going ape shit on the innocent patient. I hope those EMS AND POLICE officers are fired over this.
Alan Yates Alan Yates Monday, February 03, 2014 12:16:04 AM Doctor, You might want to research this before you get on the bandwagon. I agree that failures occurred but there seems to be some confusion about the who/what/when response. If the EMTs dropped the ball their acts need to be examined. Leave the cops out unless you have factual information that they were told the call was anything except a "combative patient". I agree that the EMS crew should, perhaps, have waited until the refractory period was past but if you want to get in the back of an EMS unit you WIL be on a cot an strapped down...unless the family wants to obtain a different method of transportation for the patient. You r statement that the EMTs failed to get a medical hx and current medications" is incorrect. The report as published here said the parent gave the current hx and the actual meds to the EMS crew. You said that you were "not in EMS". It's a different world with different rules and protocols and unless you have been in the ER or closely associated with EMS your observations lack sufficient credibility. In the field the providers on the scene operate in a world that cannot be imagined unless you have worked in it. Basing your condemnation on the statement by pt's family that this is what happened is reckless...That's one side of the story and there will, of course, be a tendency on the statements by pat's family members to shade the case in their own direction. I once transported a patient who was actually a drug seeker who complained that she had broken her back but who was walking around upon our arrival. She and her mother insisted that she be allowed to "lounge" on the cot without straps during the transition from the residence to the truck. Down multiple steps and across rough ground. After consultation with medical control the patient and her mama were told that she would either be secured to the cot or she would find different transportation. She filed a complaint against us for unlawful confinement. The hearing lasted less than 15 minutes before the citizens were made aware of our protocols. Documentation saved us even though there was considerable community condemnation of our call. As in all things: Wait until the fat lady sings to pontificate!
Charles David Loterbour Carper Charles David Loterbour Carper Monday, February 03, 2014 1:33:06 AM wasn't just EMS at fault here. The sounds like the transferring hospital committed an EMTALA violation. If they hadn't the receiving facility would have know the patient's name, and history. The entire system failed in this situation.
Brianna Beaver Brianna Beaver Monday, February 03, 2014 5:22:51 AM I'm not sure about this state but in my state if PD wants to place a person in custody and feels they're of sound mind then they are in charge of that person at that time and make decisions on whether that person goes to jail or the hospital or ect. However, there are so many details missing from this story it is impossible to come to a conclusion as to what really happened.
Wendy Mickle Wendy Mickle Monday, February 03, 2014 5:33:33 AM shoot that worrys me that it could happen to me when I have a seizure when i have one i become violet and not knowing it and I don't think it's fair there is nothing I can do about what happens when I'm in a seizure
Karen Amoia Karen Amoia Monday, February 03, 2014 6:42:03 AM It's a shame that these kind of incidents occur. It's unbelievable to me that consequences aren't imposed on the trained professionals for the horrific "mistakes" they commit like this.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 7:29:08 AM if your son has a medical condition that resolves itself without intervention then why call 911. Put him in your own car and drive him. If you can't get this accomplished without restraining him then why expect EMS to do the same. If we can't restrain him then we can't transport him.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 8:10:39 AM Your no Dr. BJ.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 8:16:58 AM Alan don't forget Drs. are part of the EMS system. They are the top rung of the EMS system. If you work in the ER as a medical professional then you are EMS. The sooner that stigma gets put aside then care of pt.'s can improve.
Alan Yates Alan Yates Monday, February 03, 2014 8:19:50 AM Timothy Kash I agree, However this particular doctor said that he is not "in EMS" so I have to think that he's either a GP or something else which does not include exposure to EMS. Have seen many of them arrive "on scene" and want to take over patient care until a phone call to medical control cured their eagerness.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 8:20:20 AM Not a Dr.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 8:25:35 AM Alan Yates he's no Dr. he's a pretender.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 8:27:19 AM ask Jay Jay what the basics of pt. assessment are.
Alan Yates Alan Yates Monday, February 03, 2014 8:28:30 AM Timothy Kash I suspected as much but didn't want to get into that.
Johnathan MacIntyre Johnathan MacIntyre Monday, February 03, 2014 8:46:41 AM Ya why call ems, cuz they have shit for brains anyways. Who the hell puts a choke hold on a guy that just seizured!Dumbass
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 9:00:28 AM Johnathan James MacIntyre your boring JAY JAY get a life. Seizure is plural Dr. Mac.
Johnathan MacIntyre Johnathan MacIntyre Monday, February 03, 2014 9:18:53 AM Oh Tim Shut your pie hole.
Johnathan MacIntyre Johnathan MacIntyre Monday, February 03, 2014 9:22:18 AM Alan Yates you dont scare me with your tactics to call my Boss. I am the Boss so shut your pie hole too.
Chenay Baxter Clark Chenay Baxter Clark Monday, February 03, 2014 9:54:10 AM Timothy Kash - do you think someone should point out to our good "Dr" that it is very illegal to pose as a medical professional?
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 10:11:40 AM There is a significant amount of epileptics who become combative during their post seizure period. some are mildly agitated, while others are aggressively attacking their loved ones. We have the ability to give them a shot to calm them, but they must be restrained to do so. Trying to do so while not restrained would be dangerous. Restraining pt.'s is part of the job for their own safety as well as ours. We live in a country where lawsuits have tied the hands of police as well as EMS. These lawsuits have resulted in care, and proper investigations of crime being withheld. You see it everyday now. These litigations will result in unnecessary deaths do to a freshly implemented no restraint policy. From the EMS side, if a person is not in their right mind we have a duty to act, not stand and gawk while a confused person jumps out a window, walks in front of a car, or grabs a weapon and harms or kills someone. Why the man was not taken to the hospital by the police is beyond me. This is another story that needs more detail.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 10:27:47 AM Chenay Baxter Clark it's not illegal to call oneself a Dr. or many rap artists would have less colorful names. It does however open one up to civil, or criminal liability to disperse medical advice in any form by impersonating a Dr. So if Dr. Mac says take an ASP because I'm a Dr. then he is open to legal issues. Right now he's just in the being a fake zone.
Chenay Baxter Clark Chenay Baxter Clark Monday, February 03, 2014 12:01:24 PM By the look of it, he would fit right in the relms of Doogie Houser if he is in fact an MD :-P
Melanie Lockhart Amick Melanie Lockhart Amick Monday, February 03, 2014 12:02:28 PM Clearly... There was some failure in communication between all medical providers. But first and foremost my safety is number one. And in order to properly take care of a violent pt you must restrain them in order to safely take care of them. I feel that there is a lot left out of this story. Because it talks about the pt being belligerent and violent. I really don't see a lot of that after a seizure. Most of the time they are in a posdictal state and don't talk. At least for a little bit. Yeah when they have a seizure they thrash around but they don't talk.... Just saying.....
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 12:20:34 PM agreed in all aspects.
Celina Grace Telles Celina Grace Telles Monday, February 03, 2014 1:03:14 PM "Seizure is plural...." no. Medical professionals have an obligation to act accordingly and with care. There is no room for error when a life is at stake. Passing tests does not mean someone possesses the common sense to provide medical care. Apparently common sense was absent in this situation and a person nearly died as a result. Questioning why anyone would use 911 for medical care is really quite dumb. She felt she needed assistance, that's what 911 is for.
Greg Lawler Greg Lawler Monday, February 03, 2014 1:13:15 PM As a FF/Paramedic I see multiple flaws here and fully believe that some folks forgot that they are to be patient advocates. Also I'm my 23 years of medicals service I have ALWAYS learned to.listen to bystanders or especially family members since they usually can provide much more info in situations like this. Kind of reminds me of providers who don't truly want to do their job. I pray that this isn't the direction Emergency Services is headed.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Monday, February 03, 2014 4:20:55 PM Celina Grace Telles I agree common sense was missing from the situation. Why the patient ended up at jail is the mistake. Restraint is necessary. If we are not to restrain the patient and take them to the hospital then what are we to do? As I said it is not to stand around gawking while the pt. does more harm to them selves or others. Restraint is taught in EMS school for the vary reason to keep people that are not in their right mind from doing more harm to themselves or others. Should I let the Alzheimer patient who has been wandering around for hours to continue to wander, or should a restrain him and return him to where he came from? In your world I should ask him nicely and if he says no then I let him keep on wandering.Also if your studying to be in the medical field Celina then your in for a rude awakening on what people will call 911 for. The answer to the question is, if I wait until the persons post epileptic period has passed which may take hours, then they have the right to refuse transport to the hospital, therefore calling 911 was not needed. Regardless of what any family member says otherwise I cannot take them against their will. Only if they have durable power of attorney can I then take them to the hospital against their will. Then we are talking about restraint again. It's a slippery slope of rules we have to follow. Get to know them so we can have an informed argument.
Timothy Kash Timothy Kash Tuesday, February 04, 2014 3:27:05 AM He's just a boy Alan pay him no mind. He's tilting at windmills.
Lori Jean Lynk Lori Jean Lynk Tuesday, February 04, 2014 4:01:14 PM My main concern is the fact that this man was combative and confused. Since when do we let the police department decide whether we take a man with altered mental status to jail or to the hospital. If the EMS crew even once questioned whether this man was altered or not, they should have taken him to the ER for medical clearance before he went to jail. Unless common sense standards have changed since I retired
Bryan Hunt Bryan Hunt Tuesday, February 04, 2014 4:13:50 PM Hmm there is definitely some Constitutional issues since when does anepileptic get restrained by EMT'S working for the police EMT'S may work along side police but not for them ,EMT'S need to think before they act if it doesnt pass the smell test with Cops they may or not be corrupt then refuse to participate your first duty as an EMT is to be a patient advocate
Bryan McLaughlin Bryan McLaughlin Tuesday, February 04, 2014 6:11:26 PM i been a emt for years and have had to restrain patent's and have never had some one sue me for it of my department and for the cops even throw he was having epilepsy the hand cuff maybe the right way to go now him mom called 911 emt show up there trying to do there job how can they help him if they cant get him on a Gurnee to take him to er and the mom says do not restraining him sorry lady im not going to get hurt because he is having a seizure if that the case take him your self to me this sounds like a scam to me to sue for them doing there job and for the rest of the story we all mess up lose of communication happened now for the jail part sorry but this may have been the best place for him at the time just think he already hit a emt what is going to make him not hit a doc just saying
Pierre Lebouef Pierre Lebouef Tuesday, February 04, 2014 8:12:07 PM Stupid.
Brendan McStay Brendan McStay Wednesday, February 05, 2014 5:04:45 AM "him mom called 911 emt show up there trying to do there job how can they help him if they cant get him on a Gurnee to take him to er and the mom says do not restraining him sorry lady im not going to get hurt because he is having a seizure if that the case take him your self" If you don't know how to treat a seizure patient, just say so.
Thad Torix Thad Torix Wednesday, February 05, 2014 10:03:05 AM When faced with violence, your staff will respond. The outcome of the incident will depend on the training they have (or have not) received. EMS should not be in the custody business. We have NO business placing ANYONE in a choke hold. It is NOT reasonable to expect your staff to know how to react to this sort of situation without real-world training. It is time to train our staff in Defensive Tactics for EMS. The training MUST prepare the provider for the battles on the street/scene, in the courtroom, in the media, and in the mind. How many more EMS providers have to face litigation or even jail time before we change the training standard?? Our system (to include EMS and the Emergency Department of our Level 1 Trauma Center) use DT4EMS' Escaping Violent Encounters courses. They are easy to implement and provide real world training. No pain compliance. No pressure points. No fancy moves. Just real escape techniques and a true focus on preparing for violence, and how to respond when you have not been able to avoid it. Training for violence, either from an attacker or an uncooperative patient, is as important as any other skill we can learn.
Smitty Searles Smitty Searles Thursday, February 06, 2014 5:02:52 AM According to the article: "When Christopher Northrup became violent, paramedics held him down, struggled with him and restrained him in a chokehold." Since when did it become acceptable to use LETHAL FORCE (a chokehold) to restrain a patient?!? In the use of force continuum this is the same as raining baton strikes to the head, or forcing the "patient" onto the stretcher at gunpoint. While there appear to be a series of lapses reported on this case, the most discouraging is seeing EMS inappropriately respond to an uncooperative patient. Thad is 100% correct. When faced with violence EMS must respond, however the way they do so is often incorrect because lack of training. With an EMS facing a rate of work place violence over 22x greater than any other profession, there needs to be an increase in preparation for facing and escaping violence on the job. The Escaping Violent Encounters course that Thad has mentioned does an excellent job of this and is endorsed by the National EMS Manager's Association.
Gary Saffer Gary Saffer Friday, February 07, 2014 1:58:39 PM We have half the story here, not all of it. None of this has been verified. IF the facts are as the Northrup's state, both EMS and the deputies screwed up on several levels. Again, that's if. I have to wonder if this is the first time that EMS responded to a call at their house.

EMS1 Offers

We Recommend...

Connect with EMS1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 EMS eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample

Online Campus Both

Police Videos