«

»

A twisted case of police abuse in small-town America

AttleboroBy Simon Davies

Recent high profile episodes of misconduct and unlawful killings by US police have generated widespread public concern that law enforcement agencies in some parts of the country are institutionally dysfunctional.

But for each one of these headline-grabbing cases there are countless others unfolding each day in small-town America that the public never hears about. Among those often disreputable police practices is the tendency of officers to unnecessarily refer people for sectioning in psychiatric facilities (Sectioning is a generic expression for confining people in hospital for mental health assessment and treatment).

Sectioning carries serious consequences for the victim. It can result not only in notes on police files, but a long-term entry on medical records that can affect chances of employment. In most countries, therefore, it’s accepted that police should refer people for this process only as a last resort.

 It’s a disquieting episode that will probably never hit the headlines, but it does demonstrate the invisible and unaccountable inhumanity that all too often occurs against those who are powerless.

Not so in this case. This story involves a 22 year old resident of Attleboro Massachusetts, who this week became a victim of false imprisonment, abuse and intimidation by local police and medical authorities. After confirming the circumstances with the young man’s friends and family, the Privacy Surgeon has referred the case to the American Civil Liberties Union for advice.

The case was brought to our attention by a Privacy Surgeon reader on the East Coast. It’s a disquieting episode that will probably never hit the headlines, but it does demonstrate the invisible and unaccountable inhumanity that all too often occurs against those who are powerless.

Astute lawyers may wish to try counting the number of violations of law and process in this case. There are many.

On Sunday, James Cohen was confronted in his house by an older man who had been stalking him for sex throughout the previous year. Although James had repeatedly rebuffed the man, he was continually bombarded by unwanted approaches. This led to a build-up of distress and anger.

Being confronted in his own home by the assailant was the final straw and James finally hit boiling point. He screamed abuse at the man before turning over a glass coffee table and finally managed to lock the assailant out of the house (even then, the man re-entered the premises through the back door). No physical assault took place – only a very heated exchange of words, a broken coffee table and lots of mess in the lounge room.

At this point a neighbour called the police, who arrived at the house shortly afterward. By then however the incident was over. The offending man had disappeared and James was laying down quietly in his room.

James’ mother explained the situation to police, emphasising that the incident was over and that no-one had been hurt. By then however the police had decided to treat the matter as a serious incident. More police arrived. When they learned that James had been drinking they escalated the matter and called an ambulance, adding to the tension.

Despite being informed that the incident was over, police attempted to talk the mother into pressing charges. She refused. Then, against her will, they entered the house. At this point they told her to fetch James from his room, suggesting that if she did not they would enter by force. She was understandable terrified.

James was promptly arrested. Well, there may be dispute on this point. The family confirmed that his rights were never read but he was taken against his will to the ambulance. He was then taken to a nearby hospital and police requested that he be sectioned.

Astute lawyers may wish to try counting the number of violations of law and process in this case. There are many.

I should add at this point that James has no criminal record and no record of mental illness. There was never any question of charges being made, as James was merely defending himself in his own home and no violence had taken place.

James explained to the Privacy Surgeon what happened next.

“After the arrest happened I didn’t get a single chance to defend my side of the story. In fact I had zero say. I felt so angry and scared being in a small room with an armed cop outside.”

“They took my clothes and so I just sat near naked in a room for hours, deeply upset. My words had no value and I was really worried. Doctors would come in every odd thirty minutes to try and force blood draws, taking my blood pressure and attempted to give me drugs. They only got my blood and blood pressure once. After that I refused everything else.”

“At one point – as I’m on medication for bronchitis – I told them that since I didn’t have my antibiotics I was not going to take any of their drugs. I asked for a pain ibruprophen and they refused to give me any. Instead they continued insisting on other drugs.”

“No-one ever explained what was going on, so I stood my ground and refused everything. They left me a long time by myself without coming in and I sat up chilled but defensive the whole time because I was cornered.”

“After six hours some lady from crisis came in and was informed that I needed to be sectioned and that’s when my words had value and she realized the cops and doctors were wrong about everything. The doctors did call my house multiple times to say it was strange that I refused the drugs and was refusing needles.”

Seven hours after his unlawful arrest, James was released. Frightened and confused, he was yet another victim of the very authorities that should have helped him.

Just another day in just another American town. Invisible and forgotten to everyone other than James and his family.