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California Federal Jury Awards $217,784 to Diabetic Bodybuilder Beaten by Police

A San Francisco federal jury awarded $217,784 to a bodybuilder who police beat while he was in life-threatening insulin shock.

Doug Burns, who suffers from Type I (juvenile-onset) diabetes, won the Natural Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition in 2006. In 2007 he was at the Century 20 Theater in Redwood City, California. During the show, Burns experienced very low blood sugar and got up to go to the snack bar to purchase a candy bar to stabilize his blood sugar. On the way to the snack bar, Burns became disoriented. Misunderstanding Burns' condition, a security guard escorted him out of the theater and called police.

Police officers Jamie Mateo and David Gough arrived and confronted a nonresponsive Burns. When Burns tried to return to the theater, Mateo pepper sprayed him in the face. He was then thrown to the ground, beaten with batons and his head was slammed into the concrete while additional police arrived. Burns was eventually handcuffed and put in a patrol car.

Paramedics who were summoned to the scene noted the highly-visible "MedicAlert" bracelet Burns was wearing, which police officers are also trained to look for. Discovering that he was a diabetic, the paramedics performed a blood sugar test that showed Burns had 26 mg/dL. Blood sugar levels below 40 mg/dL are considered a serious health threat which can lead to permanent brain damage, coma or death. The paramedics injected Burns with glucose and he was transported to a hospital for treatment of insulin shock.

Despite knowing of Burns' condition, police charged him with assaulting a police officer. Burns had to hire a criminal attorney. Prosecutors then dropped the criminal charges due to lack of evidence.

Burns filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court alleging civil rights violations and torts by Mateo, Gough and the City of Redwood City. In June 2011, a federal jury found that Mateo violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Mateo and Redwood City violated California Civil Code 52.1 and Mateo, Gough and Redwood City were negligent, awarding Burns $217,784. Burns was represented by Oakland attorneys Michael J. Haddad and Julia Sherwin and San Mateo attorney Donald L. Galine. See: Burns v. City of Redwood City, U.S.D.C.-N.D.Cal., No. C-08-2995 EDL.

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Related legal case

Burns v. City of Redwood City