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Texas City, County and Officers May be Liable in Suit over Excessive Use of Force to Involuntarily Draw Blood

Texas City, County and Officers May be Liable in Suit over Excessive Use of Force to Involuntarily Draw   Blood


On July 14, 2015, a Texas federal court issued an order granting, in part, and denying, in part, a motion to dismiss the defendants in a lawsuit over the alleged excessive use of force to draw blood for blood alcohol testing.

On February 23, 2013, then 22-year-old, 140-pound Caroline Callaway was stopped  by  Austin,  Texas  Police  officer  Patrick  Oborski  for running  a red light. Oborski asked Callaway to take a breathalyzer test. She refused and was arrested as part of a "no-refusal weekend."

Callaway was taken to the Travis County central jail for processing. Officer Adam Johnson was DWI supervisor for the no-refusal initiative. Callaway informed Johnson she would not consent to a blood draw.  She had also informed "some officers" that she suffered from an anxiety disorder for which she took medication.

Despite not physically resisting the officers in any way, Callaway was kept in handcuffs and led to a small padded room with a restraint chair. Her legs, shoulders, waist, hands and feet were strapped into the restraint chair and she was surrounded by Johnson, Oborski, five jail guards and a nurse.  A hood was placed over her head and she was physically grabbed by at least four of them.  She began gasping for air and shaking as anxiety kicked in and she feared suffocation.

The  shaking  made  the  blood  draw  difficult,  so  one  of  the  officers  "used his  hand  or hands to  choke  Callaway  around  the  neck,  until  she  was  on  the verge  of  losing  consciousness  and  her  body  went  limp."  Then the blood was drawn.

The incident caused Callaway to allegedly suffer severe bruising, especially around the neck; nerve damage, which may be permanent; and PTSD. She filed a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the police officers, guards, nurse, health care provider, City and County alleging excessive use of force to draw the blood.  Defendants filed motions to dismiss.

The court granted the dismissal of the guards because they were not named until after the statute of limitations had run. Likewise, the nurse and health care provider were granted summary judgment as they were not involved in the alleged excessive use of force.  However, supervisory claims against the City and County for failing to have established a formal policy to ensure the safe and sanitary involuntary drawing of blood and City for failure to train police officers in the safe involuntary drawing of blood were allowed to remain. State tort claims against the police officers were dismissed, but federal civil rights claims against Johnson for the excessive use of force and Oborski for failing to prevent the use of excessive force were allowed to remain. The court noted that courts ''throughout the country have found the use of force against a suspect who is already physically restrained and not actively resisting officers' commands is objectively unreasonable.'' See: Callaway v. City of Austin, U.S.D.C.-W.D. Tex., Case No. 1:15-cv-00103-SS.

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Related legal case

Callaway v. City of Austin