24-year-old prior high school valedictorian and misdemeanor driving while intoxicated suspect Caroline Callaway is suing the City of Austin, Travis County, the Austin Police Department, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, Austin Police officers Patrick Oborski and Sergeant Adam Johnson, Pro-Touch Nurses, and Pro-Touch Nurses employee Shannon Ramsey-Graham for unspecified damages after the lawsuit’s defendants allegedly brutalized her, causing injuries to her neck, post-traumatic stress disorder, and potentially inflicting permanent nerve damage, during a forced blood extraction associated with a Feb. 4, 2013 DWI stop. Callaway says, according to Courthouse News Service, that the incident forced her to face medical bills, pain and suffering, embarrassment, lost wages, humiliation, indignity, emotional injuries, and legal fees. Her lawsuit claims that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated, that police committed assault and battery and used excessive force, and that Pro-Touch Nurses employees were negligent in their duties and committed medical malpractice.
The Austin Chronicle notes that Callaway is being represented in the suit by high-profile defense attorney Daphne Silverman, who is known for handling civil cases for West Point graduate Antonio Buehler, founder of the police accountability group Peaceful Streets Project. Buehler was wrongfully arrested and allegedly brutalized on New Years Day of 2012 after he asked police to stop assaulting a female passenger who had been riding in a car with a DUI suspect.
During Callaway’s Feb 4, 2013 police encounter in which she was charged with misdemeanor DWI based on blood test results, she refused to take a breathalyzer and was transported, rather than to a hospital, to the Travis County Jail for a forced blood extraction. Prior to arriving, she informed officers that she suffers from anxiety for which her doctor had prescribed medication. Upon arrival at the jail, officers strapped her into a chair in a padded room, which triggered her anxiety and caused her to tremble. Though she was not actively resisting, officers allegedly took aggressive measures to keep her still in response to her involuntary trembling and placed a Tranzport Hood over her head, which made it difficult for her to breathe. The first attempt at an extraction went awry as the nurse lost control of the needle and spilled Callaway’s blood on one of the officers on the scene.
Courthouse News Service notes that the lawsuit states, “(D)efendants continued the abuse determined to take Ms. Callaway’s blood. In order to stop Ms. Callaway from trembling, one of the officers used choke hold pressure points on her neck, until her body went limp. Defendant Ramsey-Graham stabbed Ms. Callaway again while Ms. Callaway was limp. When the officer released her neck, Ms. Callaway gasped for air. She could not see because there was a bag over her head, but she felt the weight of a boot in the crook of her arm, which, along with the rest of her body, was still tied to the chair. Ms. Callaway was suspected of committing a misdemeanor.”
Callaway’s attorney Silverman says that police policies should change such that officers are required to conduct blood draws at a sanitary medical facility, and the lawsuit claims that the extraction was performed in an “improper manner without following the medical profession’s commonly recognized procedures for safe and sanitary blood draws.”
Callaway is set to face her DWI charge in court in April of this year. Courthouse News Service notes that the City of Austin claims that it has not yet received paperwork on the pending excessive force and civil rights lawsuit. The Austin Chronicle is reporting that the Travis County Sheriff’s Department and Pro-Touch Nurses did not respond to a request for a comment on the case. Callaway hopes that her case will cause officials nationwide to examine forced blood-draw policies.