Judge drops Pitkin County commissioners, sheriff from drugging case
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” A federal judge has cleared Pitkin County commissioners, the sheriff and an Aspen doctor of any wrongdoing against a woman who alleges she was forcibly tranquilized after she was arrested more than three years ago.
Separate rulings recently issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham dismissed the commissioners, Sheriff Bob Braudis and Dr. Chris Martinez from Basalt resident Bronwyn Anglin’s lawsuit, which contends her rights to free speech, due process, as well as her right to be free from unreasonable seizure, were violated. The suit also accused local law enforcement and the hospital of “constitutional failure” to train its employees.
The incident occurred Dec. 11, 2004. That day, Anglin was injected with anti-psychotic medication ” 10 milligrams of Droperdiol, a high-risk sedative ” when she was at the Pitkin County jail. Anglin also alleges she wrongfully arrested when she visited the jail to check on her friend, who had been arrested after an alleged domestic assault.
The incident prompted Anglin to sue the commissioners, the sheriff, Martinez, deputy Walt Geister, Aspen Valley Hospital, two paramedics, the city of Aspen and three members of the Aspen Police Department.
But the list of defendants is getting shorter; now just the city, officer Dan Davis, former officer Melinda Calvano and former Police Chief Loren Ryerson remain as defendants. Even so, Anglin’s attorney, David Lane of Denver, said Monday he’s confident the case will go to trial.
“The bottom line is we think we will still get the case in front of a jury,” Lane said, “and they will find out that [Anglin’s] constitutional rights were violated.”
Lane would not answer questions about the potential for a settlement. The suit does not specify an amount in damages.
Don Bird, who runs the Pitkin County jail, said Nottinghams’s recent dismissal of the county commissioners and Sheriff Braudis serves as a vindication of sorts.
“Our policy and procedure with regard to this case withstood some fairly intense security from a federal judge,” Bird said. “It passed that sniff test, and in that regard I do feel vindicated.”
Bird said the case was worth fighting.
“We would not have gone to this extent if we hadn’t thought this was a major issue we had to stand up for,” he said, adding that his jailers are trained to handle inmates in a “humane manner.”
Still, Deputy Geister, who worked at the jail the night in question, remains a defendant. Nottingham allowed Anglin’s 14th Amendment (due process) violation claim against Geister to survive summary judgment, mainly because of some disputed facts regarding Geister’s handling of the incident.
Anglin’s lawsuit argues that when she went to Pitkin County jail to check on a friend, Davis and Calvano threatened to sedate her if she did not calm down.
According to Nottingham’s ruling, Anglin had used her cell phone to call 911 repeatedly from the jail house lobby, apparently because officers would not let Anglin bond her friend out of jail. The reason, Nottingham wrote, is because Anglin “was not a sober, responsible party,” a condition fueled by her consumption of some four or five glasses of wine earlier that evening.
Frustrated that Anglin was tying up the 911 line, the dispatcher on duty contacted jail personnel, and “officers Calvano and Davis proceeded to the lobby and shackled and handcuffed (Anglin) without warning,” the judge wrote.
Anglin was placed in maximum security, the judge wrote, because the jail’s other cells were occupied. Anglin apparently became frustrated and pounded on her cell’s door because she wanted to call her daughter, the judge wrote. The pounding lasted some 10 minutes, prompting jail officials to order her to stop. If she continued, the officials allegedly said, she would be taken to the hospital.
Anglin insisted she did not want medical treatment, but allegedly remained combative. In turn, jail officials, as well as paramedics who were called to the scene, placed Anglin face down on her cell bed. Paramedics subsequently injected her four times with Droperdiol.
With Judge Nottingham’s ruling on two motions for summary judgment, two still are active ” one from Calvano, the other from the city, Davis, and Ryerson.
Nottingham dismissed Braudis from the case, reasoning in part that “(Anglin) literally has presented no evidence supporting a finding that Sheriff Braudis, who was not present in the jail on the evening in question, personally participated in the decision to inject (Anglin)…”
Along those same lines, the judge also dropped commissioners from the lawsuit.
Anglin’s one claim that did survive against a county official is her 14th Amendment claim against Geister.
Geister had testified that he left the decision to inject Anglin in the hands of the paramedics. In fact, Martinez, who was working at Aspen Valley Hospital at the time of the incident, ultimately made the decision to sedate her, based on Geister’s report to him that Anglin was combative and banging her head against the cell door, Nottingham determined.
“It is undisputed that the Pitkin County Jail’s policy regarding involuntary sedation of prisoners is to leave the decision of whether to sedate a detainee to the medical professionals,” the judge wrote.
However, Nottingham ruled that because “there is some dispute as to whether Deputy Geister falsely reported to the paramedics that (Anglin) had been banging her head against her cell door,” he had to side with Anglin.
“Reading the facts in the light most favorable to (Anglin), she has established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Deputy Geister’s allegedly false report led to an unreasonable seizure of her person by forcible injection of an anti-psychotic,” Nottingham wrote.
In dismissing Martinez, Nottingham ruled that Anglin’s lawsuit failed to provide a substantial enough argument that the physician acted improperly, based on the information he had at the time of the incident.
Pitkin County’s elected officials are looking to a citizen group to make recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit impacts from growth and development.