TAMPA — The family of a man who suffered a diabetic seizure and died while being detained by Tampa police last year has sued the city in federal court in an eight-count complaint that also names the two responding officers as defendants.
The wrongful-death action alleges the constitutional rights of 63-year-old Arthur Green Jr., a longtime Tampa resident and community activist, were violated when he was stopped by police after driving erratically on North Central Avenue in Seminole Heights on the afternoon of April 16.
Green had swerved into oncoming traffic and had sideswiped a couple of cars before a witness called 911.
Tampa police Officer Anthony Portman was first to respond. He stopped Green and approached, asking Green to step out of the car.
“Mr. Green responded in a confused and incoherent manner,” said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tampa on Tuesday, “and stated that he had done nothing wrong.”
He refused to get out of the car, the lawsuit said, and Portman tried to pull him from his vehicle.
Green did not attack the officer but tried to pull away, the lawsuit said, climbing back into his car.
“For nearly two minutes,” the lawsuit said, “Portman spoke with and observed Mr. Green sitting in his seat, during which time Mr. Green continued to seem confused and made no aggressive moves toward ... Portman, who called for backup.”
At that point, the lawsuit said, the officer should have realized Green was not intoxicated and that he was suffering from a medical condition.
Soon afterward, police Cpl. Matt Smith arrived. Smith had experience with diabetic incidents and suspected Green could be suffering from a seizure.
The lawsuit, filed by Green’s widow, Lena L. Young, representing the estate of her late husband, said the officers dragged Green from the vehicle and placed him face down on the pavement. The officers tried to handcuff him and place him in leg restraints, “ignoring his obvious physical and mental distress,” the lawsuit said.
Eight minutes into the incident, Green lost consciousness and officers began to administer CPR, the lawsuit said.
“Mr. Green’s death could have been avoided had he received appropriate and timely medical care,” the lawsuit said, adding that the officers should have recognized that Green was suffering from a medical condition.
The lawsuit said 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes and that hypoglycemia can result in erratic behavior and confusion, and that police officers across the nation frequently are trained in how to recognize a diabetic incident and administer medical aid.
The city “either completely lacks sufficient and adequate training to address these prevalent concerns,” the lawsuit said, “or has obviously deficient or nominal training in these areas,” and as a result Tampa officers “are not prepared to handle predictable and non-aggressive encounters with persons suffering from hypoglycemia or a diabetic episode.”
Tampa police declined to respond to the lawsuit.
“We can’t comment on pending litigation,” said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
At the time, the department defended the actions of the officers, saying Portman and Smith thought they were dealing with a dangerous driver who was a threat to the public and that they were obliged to take that person into custody.
“It was impossible for the officers to know when they first arrived at the scene — when they witnessed him driving erratically — it’s impossible to know what was causing that,” Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said at the time. “The first thing they have to do is stop the threat to the public.”
The 21-page lawsuit cites constitutional violations, including a right to be free from punishment and excessive force while being detained, and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.