How the NYPD handles gunshot victims with outstanding warrants while they recover in the hospital.
Bang! Imagine you’ve been shot. Rushed to the emergency room. Sent into surgery. Bullets removed, wounds sutured, you awake, hazy, in a hospital bed. Everything after you left the bar last night is a blur. Slowly, you open your eyes and raise your hand to rub them, but your hand—both hands—are cuffed to the bed! What the fuck? You close your eyes and open them again, hoping you’ll awake from the nightmare, but the metal still chafes your wrists. And your legs—your legs are shackled at the ankles! As you squirm, you struggle to remember. The walk from the bar …. Ducking into the convenience store for some water …. The guy with the ski mask and the gun …. The searing pain in your stomach. But that guy was the perp. And he shot you. So why are you the one bolted to your hospital bed, hobbled in chains, unable to scratch your nose or get up to go pee? What the hell happened?
If you live in New York City, and you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest—for anything from an unpaid summons for public drinking to a more serious infraction—this could be your story, because the NYPD has a policy of performing warrant checks on shooting victims. According to an article by Joseph Goldstein in The New York Times:
If an outstanding warrant is found, the police generally handcuff and shackle the victim, often for the whole hospital stay, no matter how minor the underlying offense or how grievous the injuries.
The bottom line: don’t get shot in New York if you haven’t paid a summons or you’ve failed to make a court appearance, or you’re doubly screwed. The presumption is, if you’ve been shot, you’ll be profiled, because the police believe you’re likely be a criminal. And if the cops dig up any dirt, you’ll be bound to your bed in a way that’s anything but kinky.
Given the relatively low flight risk of a patient who’s been clipped, the policy seems more punitive than preventive, but the Department’s “patrol guide” specifically calls for officers to “handcuff all hospitalized prisoners to ensure the safety of persons present and prevent escape.” If you have an outstanding warrant, even for an unpaid fine, you’re considered a prisoner who belongs in police custody. And ironically, patients arrested while committing crimes or resisting arrest fall under the jurisdiction of the Corrections Department, whose more lenient policies provide those patients with legal counsel and limit the use of restraints. If you’re comatose or paralyzed, you’re in luck; the policy gives you a break; otherwise, you’re cuffed and shackled and almost always assigned a police officer as a guard. The NYPD’s ominous word for conducting research on patients post-shooting tells a story in itself: the term they use is “victimology.”
The Times article profiles a black male, Lequint Singleton, who was shot in the back and discovered to have warrants for public drinking and disorderly conduct. Apparently his doctors had to argue with the police for the removal of the restraints during surgery. After the operation, Singleton was cuffed to his bed for three weeks. While the article does not specify the background of the other victims mentioned, it does state that “warrants for unpaid tickets are not uncommon, particularly among young black men in high crime neighborhoods, where the police focus their enforcement efforts.” This gives readers pause, and cause to wonder whether warrant checks are indeed run on all gunshot victims (there were 1,299 in 2013) or perhaps only on those whom police officers consider more likely to be in their database.
Racial issues aside, the policy seems both cruel and counterproductive to healing. Another victim, known as Roy, convinced the police to take him to court, though he was still in a weakened state, so he could petition the judge to remove his restraints, which the judge did. Andre Daly had his ankles shackled and his “good hand” cuffed to the bed; his other hand was held together with pins after being shattered by a bullet. And another, Kenneth Briggs, was apparently handcuffed at Mount Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital while in a medically-induced coma, and his physical therapy was delayed until the restraints were removed. Relatives of these patients who wish to see them in the hospital are required to obtain permission slips from the police that entitle them to a single visit.
I recall my own brush with the justice system nearly ten years ago. After a heated but non-violent argument with my ex-wife that preceded our divorce, our local suburban police arrived and took me in an ambulance to the local hospital for “overnight observation.” I didn’t understand why I was handcuffed in the ambulance, and the police refused to explain, but I can tell you that the cuffs caused both physical and psychological pain. I later learned I had been charged with disorderly conduct, and that Connecticut police always arrest at least one partner when they are called to investigate domestic incidents, because of a brutal murder of a wife by her husband in the state several decades ago. I still don’t know why the police felt the need to use restraints on me, as they were armed and I had gone with them without a struggle. When I arrived at the hospital, one officer was kind enough to remove the cuffs, but I felt their sting for weeks afterwards and even after the prosecutor declined to pursue the charges. In an ironic twist, I missed my court hearing the next morning, because the hospital didn’t release me in time, nor did they forward evidence of my departure time to the court, and I ended up with an arrest warrant for “failure to appear.” Until that, too, was dismissed, had I been pulled over by the police for running a stop sign or even a broken taillight, I could have been thrown in jail.
Deputy Police Commissioner Susan Herman, interviewed for the Times article, said the policy of restraining gunshot victims with outstanding warrants is under review. We can hope that the review results in the NYPD exercising more restraint when it come to cuffing and shackling patients wanted for misdemeanors and assigning officers to sit in hospital hallways guarding them who, according to one victim, pass the time playing games such as Candy Crush on their cellphones.