Glassboro, NJ — In September of 2015, Taharqa Dean, who suffers from debilitating seizures as he copes with his epilepsy, had a seizure. Dean fell unconscious during this seizure and a passerby called 911 for help. While officers were originally helpful during the initial approach, when Dead got up to walk away, things took a violent turn for the worse.
Dean’s subsequent treatment by police, after he’d suffered a seizure is now the subject of a $2 million lawsuit against the Glassboro police department.
According to the report, Patrolman Kyle Snyder arrived and was calmly talking to Dean as he lays in the grass. “Just focus on your breathing, alright?” he said. “Just breathe, help is on the way.”
Another officer says “I’ve actually talked to him before, he told me he has seizures.”
Eventually, paramedics arrive and get Dean into the ambulance where he tries to get up and stumble away. After he’d experienced the seizure, Dean was completely disoriented and did not know where he was. This is a common symptom of epileptics following a seizure.
However, that disoriented state, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, can be exacerbated into aggression if not handled properly. So, the aggression from police—which Dean was met with when he got up and tried to walk out of the ambulance—was certainly not the proper way to deal with his seizure.
The officers were equipped with body cameras that captured the resultant assault unfold.
“I was troubled by what I saw,” Lawyer Stanley King, who filed the federal suit last month said. “I don’t know how in good conscience any law enforcement officer could conduct themselves in that matter.”
As NJ.com reports:
A piece of the footage obtained from King shows Dean speaking incoherently and kicking as he stumbles out of the vehicle. Much of the ambulance encounter provided by the borough, including this section, was redacted.
Two officers then take Dean to the ground, holding his face to the asphalt as they try to pull out handcuffs. Dean then bites one of the officers before they get him into the handcuffs.
“What’re you gonna bite me for?” one officer says. “I’m talking to you like a person, treating you normal.”
The incident report says Dean was reaching for an officer’s weapon before they handcuffed him, but this is not shown on the video.
“In my view, I don’t see an excessive use of force,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “They are constantly telling him to calm down … he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and is noncompliant.”
However, Dean was incoherent and unable to control his actions. So, when the officers mandated that he stay in the ambulance and then attempted to use force, this caused a chain reaction and Dean’s subconscious took over.
“Officers might react to a person’s dazed behavior, inability to obey directives, and combative response to restraint as actions that the person can control,” the website for the law enforcement accreditor CALEA reads. “In fact, when a person with epilepsy has a seizure, he or she is physically unable to control their actions.”
Unfortunately, these officers, who appeared to be well-meaning, apparently didn’t receive the training from the above-mentioned accreditor. Not realizing that Dean couldn’t control himself, the officers reacted with the only tool they have, violent escalation.
If someone who had a complex partial seizure was “told to stop walking or freeze, they might not understand,” Andrea Racioppi, associate director of the Epilepsy Foundation of New Jersey, told NJ.com.
“When he comes out of an epileptic seizure, he has no recollection whatsoever of the event,” his brother Kwsind Dean said in 2015. “He was starting to come out of it, and so all he knew was that someone had him in a vehicle taking him somewhere. It takes him at least 20 minutes to get his bearings back.”
During the attack, Dean was pepper sprayed and injured and eventually did end up in the hospital—where he lay unconscious for several days.
As NJ.com points out, this is no isolated incident, others have had similar stories across the country. In Reno last year, James O’Doan was arrested after he had a seizure and charged with resisting arrest. Andrea Nicole Hansen says she was arrested in Pismo Beach, California, for resisting arrest and public intoxication after having an epileptic seizure.
Sadly, this is not even the first time this has happened to Dean. Before the incident in 2015, in 2011, Dean says he was assaulted by officers in Deptford Township after having a seizure in a parking lot and getting mistaken for a car thief.
What the video below illustrates is that when your only tool is a hammer, everything, including epileptics, begins to look like nails.