Oklahoma trooper on leave after altercation with ambulance personnel

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Oklahoma police officer is on paid administrative leave, following an altercation with ambulance personnel while they were transporting a patient to the hospital. Trooper Daniel Martin, a member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP), was caught on video by his police vehicle's dashboard-camera in a physical struggle with paramedic Maurice White, Jr. after Martin pulled the ambulance over. Martin had previously passed the ambulance while en route to another call, but came back and pulled over the ambulance. The incident occurred on May 24, and footage from the police dash-cam was released following a tort claim filed by paramedic White.

It has also been suggested that the previous call had in-fact been to pick up his wife from a police station who was then present in the car during the incident between Martin and the ambulance.

A police car with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol
Image: Charles Dugger.

Footage by the OHP released Friday shows the ambulance personnel repeatedly informing Trooper Martin that they have a patient in the back of the ambulance that they are in the midst of transporting to the hospital. Martin yells at the ambulance driver for making what he claims was an obscene gesture – the ambulance driver asserts he raised both hands signalling confusion at the police officer's actions. Trooper Martin can be heard telling the ambulance driver "I'm going to give you a ticket for failure to yield, and when I go by you saying 'What's going on?' you don't need to give me no hand gestures now, I ain't going to put up with that [expletive], do you understand me?"

The video from the police dash-cam is eight minutes long, and paramedic White can be seen twice being pushed up against his ambulance by Trooper Martin. In one instance, Martin shoves White up against the ambulance while gripping his neck tightly with his other hand. In a written statement, paramedic White described the hold placed on him by the Trooper, stating "he engaged my trachea in a claw-like grip digging his nail into my neck while partially shutting off my air supply."

Cquote1.svg [Paramedic Maurice White, Jr.] never once became aggressive to that trooper. Cquote2.svg

—Clara Harper, sister of the ambulance patient

The sister of the patient in the ambulance, Clara Harper, was following the ambulance and witnessed the incident. Harper later viewed the footage from the police dash-cam, and she stated to Tulsa World paramedic White "never once became aggressive to that trooper." She asserted that "He did nothing wrong." After the ambulance was allowed to continue transporting the patient to the hospital, Harper got into the ambulance to be with her sister. "She was scared, and I was trying to calm her down and telling her everything was going to be all right," said Harper.

Cquote1.svg My biggest concern was for the patient. If there's any nightmare from this, it's because of what that mother, that patient, had to go through. Cquote2.svg

—Paramedic Maurice White, Jr.

Paramedic White was interviewed by KOKI-TV, and recounted his thoughts as the incident was taking place. He stated his main concern was for his ambulance patient: "It was surrealistic because I've never had such an experience. My biggest concern was for the patient. If there's any nightmare from this, it's because of what that mother, that patient, had to go through." White's attorney told KOKI-TV that if White deemed the arrest to be unlawful, he had the right to resist it. White is a paramedic for Creek Nation Emergency Medical Services in Oklahoma. He told FOX News he was surprised at the actions of the police trooper. "He's taken an oath, just as I have, to protect and serve. I could not believe that this was happening," said White.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety decided to release the police dash-cam video publicly after amateur video of the incident was posted to the video-sharing website YouTube. Captain Chris West, spokesman for the OHP, explained why the video was not released earlier. "We've been well aware of the fact that this incident has drawn enormous attention, but made the decision to protect the integrity of the investigation, any and all relevant evidence, as well as the rights of the department employees," said West. Prior to the release of the dash-cam video, a relative of the patient had posted video of the incident to YouTube. The son of the ambulance patient can be seen in a video stating to the camera "Highway patrolman pulled over my mom's ambulance because he's mad we didn't pull over, and he tried to arrest ... the EMT from taking my mother to the hospital."

Cquote1.svg One man is there protecting a patient and one man is there abusing his authority and throwing his weight around. Cquote2.svg

—Attorney for paramedic Maurice White, Jr.

Richard O'Carroll, the lawyer for paramedic White, said that Trooper Martin abused his authority as a police officer. "Everything on this needs to relate back to why are we here? One man is there protecting a patient and one man is there abusing his authority and throwing his weight around," said O'Carroll. White's attorney filed a tort claim on behalf of his client in order to get the video of the police vehicle's dash-cam released. Trooper Martin's lawyer says he did not realize a patient was in the ambulance at the time of the incident.

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O'Carroll explained the decision of paramedic White not to use sirens while transporting his patient to the hospital: "There was a reason he wasn't running sirens. There was a suggestion of chest pains and a heart condition and sirens aggravate these conditions by increasing the blood pressure." However the attorney for Trooper Martin, Gary James, said that the ambulance was not exempt from regulations because it did not have its sirens on. "If they're not running their sirens or lights, they don't get afforded any emergency vehicle exemptions," said James. The OHP chief is handling an internal review into the incident. As of June 1, Trooper Martin has been on paid administrative leave.


Sources

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