Michigan Man Arrested During Seizure
Arrested (and Tasered) while Seizing
Police and Other First Responders Need Better Training to Protect the Rights of People Having Seizures
Following yet another in a series of dangerous mishaps involving a police response to a person experiencing a seizure, the Epilepsy Foundation is once again calling for police, emergency medical personnel and other first responders to undergo training and implement protocols to ensure they properly respond in these kinds ofsituations. The most recent report involves a Michigan man with epilepsy, who, when experiencing a seizure, apparently was unjustifiably tasered, clubbed, arrested, jailed and committed to a psychiatric facility for violent offenders -- all based on non-threatening behaviors caused by a seizure. Fortunately, he was released from the psychiatric facility (after advocacy by the Foundation and its local affiliate) and is doing well at home. However, too many other people experiencing seizures have had encounters with police that have resulted in serious permanent injuries or even death.
There must be reforms in the practices of police and other first responders to ensure appropriate training and protocols are put in place with respect to the recognition and management of persons experiencing seizures. The Epilepsy Foundation’s affiliates around the country are eager to provide training to first responder agencies upon request and the Foundation itself can provide training materials and guidance.
The case in Michigan involved Daniel Beloungea, who was taking a daily walk in his neighborhood when he experienced a complex partial seizure, which left him in a state of semi-consciousness. Complex partial seizures are associated with repetitive involuntary movements, sometimes for up to 30 minutes, with post-seizure disorientation. Beloungea needs to walk daily as a form of rehabilitation to help restore functioning in his legs; this functioning was impaired following brain surgery to treat his seizures. A person passing by noticed Mr. Beloungea acting erratically and called police to report his behavior. When officers arrived on the scene, they apparently assumed that his failure to respond to their questions and his erratic involuntary movements amounted to resistance, and failed to recognize the obvious signs of a seizure. Furthermore, they failed to inspect the medical alert bracelet he was wearing, which indicates clearly that he has epilepsy.
According to police reports, when Mr. Beloungea was unresponsive to police direction, the bag he was carrying was kicked by police from his hand, and when he flailed his arms involuntarily, he was tasered, sending 50,000 volts of electricity through his body (risking serious injury or death); hit with a police baton; threatened at gunpoint; and handcuffed behind his back. (The handcuffing itself is dangerous for persons experiencing a seizure, as it can lead to further seizure-related agitation and struggling, possibly causing asphyxiation or even cardiac arrest.) He was then prosecuted for assaulting police officers and disorderly conduct, notwithstanding considerable evidence, including the state’s own mental health evaluation, confirming that his actions were involuntary and solely the product of a seizure.
Then, apparently because of a gap in Michigan law, Mr. Beloungea was forced to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, rather than being permitted to submit evidence that he lacked the mental and physical capacity to commit the crimes for which he was charged. Because state law requires that all persons who have been adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity be committed for a mental health evaluation, a man who posed no risk to anyone was forced to languish in a penal institution housing violent criminal offenders (where he experienced at least two subsequent seizures). He was discharged from the psychiatric facility, on September 28, 2006, after a stay of more than three weeks.
Training Materials for First Responder Agencies
In 1994, the Epilepsy Foundation developed a training curriculum for police nationwide on appropriate seizure recognition and response, along with an accompanying video: “Take Another Look: Police Response to Seizures and Epilepsy.” The materials were developed with the Police Executive Research Forum under a grant from the Department of Justice, as part of a larger educational project to promote compliance with the ADA. These materials were distributed to over 20,000 police departments nationwide. Recently, the Department of Justice has posted a shortened version of the video on its Web site. This is part of the Department's initiative to help state and local law enforcement agencies understand their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Justice Department video is available online at DOJ New Streaming Video Series: Police Response to People with Disabilities
The Foundation is in the process of developing an updated training curriculum for police and other first responders on seizure recognition and management.
For information on obtaining the current Foundation training curriculum, call 1-800-332-1000. First responder agencies are also encouraged to contact the Foundation affiliate serving their community to request that the agency provide training. To determine the location of the appropriate affiliate go to /aboutus/AffiliateLookup.cfm.
Jeanne A. Carpenter Epilepsy Legal Defense Fund: Legal Guidance and Lawyer Referrals
The Foundation is tracking and supporting cases involving challenges to dangerous first responder practices through its Jeanne A. Carpenter Epilepsy Legal Defense Fund. The Fund provides legal guidance to individuals experiencing epilepsy-related discrimination or other injustice and their families, along with referrals to a nationwide network of cooperating law offices. Legal assistance may be requested directly through the Fund’s Web site.