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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.

"The physicians were left guessing as to Christopher's medical history."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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