Jailers Show a Paraplegic Who's Boss

Richard Post was taken to jail in his wheelchair for mouthing off in a bar. Joe Arpaio's detention officers saw him as such a threat, they strapped him into a medieval restraint chair--and broke his neck.

Post says O'Connor admitted in court that he had also been drinking that night, something Post's public defender, Anne Phillips, confirms. It was St. Patrick's Day, after all.

Officers Howell and Ray gave Post the option of calling a taxi or going to jail. Post refused to get a cab ride home, however, explaining that he never took cab rides, feeling that taking himself out of his wheelchair in the back of a taxi left him too vulnerable. He told Howell and Ray he'd gladly roll himself home, a proposition the police refused, perhaps not realizing, Post says, that the several miles to his house was no big deal for a paraplegic with the kind of upper-body strength he had.

The officers wrote that they offered to let Post leave several times, but that he turned them down, saying that they would have to arrest him first.

So they did. And when they searched him, they found in his backpack a container with 1.1 grams of marijuana and a pipe.

Post disputes the account of the police, saying that he wouldn't demand to be arrested when he was carrying pot.

Howell and Ray read Post his rights and prepared to cart him off. It's the sort of arrest resulting from alcohol-related conflicts that occurs dozens of times nightly in large and small cities. And in any other place, it would be followed by a short but sobering stay in a dreary jail.

But Post was in Maricopa County, and he was in store for much, much more.

At Madison Street Jail, Post was searched again and booked. He hadn't planned on being out all night, so he didn't have an internal catheter with him, which would allow him to urinate.

On a videotape of Post's booking provided to Post by the Sheriff's Office, Post not only appears alert and cooperative during his search--rather than intoxicated and belligerent, which jailers claim he was--but he also clearly points out to detention officers that the urine bag attached to his ankle is full. Without emptying that bag and obtaining an internal catheter, Post told them, he couldn't urinate. And he needed to go.

"This is a jail, not a hospital," Post says he was told. He says when he finally got to talk to a nurse, he told her, "I have special needs."

She responded by asking, "Do you have a medic-alert bracelet?"
"I'm in a wheelchair," Post responded.
Even weeks later, as the Sheriff's Office conducted an internal investigation to determine how Post had been injured, the jailers didn't seem to understand what Post had been asking for that night:

"I asked Sgt. [Steve] Kenner about the medical equipment that inmate Post was allegedly refused," the sheriff's investigator writes. "He said that Sgt. [Rocky] Medina had advised him that inmate Post was allowed to keep his catheter and the other necessary equipment. This was authorized by R.N. Hunter and R.N. Atkinson." (Emphasis added.)

Post did have an external catheter and bottle with him, which paraplegics use to prevent spills when they urinate. But without the internal catheter, a narrow tube about a foot long, Post could not release his urine from his bladder.

And he was worried that if he spent considerable time in the jail with his bladder so full--he was already in pain--it could bring about serious consequences. Medical literature supplied to paraplegics warns them that the single greatest killer of paraplegics is kidney disease brought on by unsanitary and infrequent urinations.

As he was wheeled to a cell, Post says a detention officer told him, "There's a big difference between what you need and what you get in here. Don't be a baby."

"They called me a pussy a couple of times," Post says.
He repeatedly tried to get the attention of jailers, to explain what pain he was in, and to get them to deliver him an internal catheter. "Shut up," he says he was told. So, in desperation, he started banging on the cell door.

Officers say he was hitting the door's window, and told them he didn't care if he broke it. But Post says he only hit the door itself in an attempt to get a nurse's attention--and that if he wanted to break the window, he easily could have with the removable metal armrest on his wheelchair.

The videotape appears to confirm Post's version of events: The tape shows Post moving close to the door, hitting it once about handle-level, and then backing away to wait for a response. He does this repeatedly, and then gives up and goes back to where the toilet is.

He wanted to empty his full urine bag into the commode before trying to make himself urinate without the internal catheter--a difficult proposition, he says, which involves manipulating his abdomen with his hands--but he couldn't reach the toilet. While he was trying, though, a roll of toilet paper fell into it, and Post got an idea.

If they wouldn't respond to his requests for assistance, he'd get their attention another way.

Post was able to reach the lever, and he began flushing the toilet, over and over.

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