The police charged her with drunken driving. But her brain was bleeding.

Driving home from work on the day her life changed forever, Nicole McClure felt her feet tingle and her sense of direction falter. Then she noticed the colorful lights illuminating the early morning landscape.

“Oh, nice lights,” she remembers thinking, not realizing that the highway patrol was coming up behind her. During what should have been a simple drive home from her overnight job at a Walmart near Olympia, Washington, Ms. McClure became increasingly disoriented, and ended up hitting two roundabouts before stopping.

A state trooper who was following her ran to her door with a gun drawn, yelling for her to get out of the car, according to his dashcam video. He demanded to know if she had been drinking or using drugs. She denied it. “I don’t feel well,” she said. The policeman was not convinced. She was taken to jail, charged with driving while intoxicated.

The arrest was the start of more than a 24-hour ordeal in the criminal justice system at a time when Ms. McClure was in desperate need of medical care. Her lawyers said she was left lying in her own urine on the floor of her cell while prison staff, apparently thinking she was drunk, mocked her. When someone finally realized she needed medical attention, records show, doctors discovered bleeding on the brain and rushed her into surgery. She spent 17 days in the hospital and was no longer able to work or take care of herself.

Ms. McClure’s case, detailed in the lawsuit, records and interviews, offers a chilling look at how the quick assumptions law enforcement officers sometimes make during traffic stops can have devastating consequences.

Many law enforcement agencies now offer drug recognition training to help officers distinguish between someone who is under the influence and someone who is in a medical crisis. Yet failed assessments continue to lead to delays in medical care, some of which are fatal. Boston and San Diego have recently had cases of DUI arrests where the drivers were found to have had a stroke. A similar case appeared last year in Puyallup, Wash..

Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is now a law professor at the University of South Carolina, said it can sometimes be difficult for officers to determine whether a person’s behavior is the result of mental illness, substances or a medical episode. The latest training recommendations, he said, urge officers to watch for indicators of health problems and to err on the side of calling for help if there is a potential health problem.

“Officers are not doctors, they are not paramedics,” he said. “They really do not have, nor are they expected to have, the expertise to diagnose what is causing the medical distress. But they should be able to identify the indicators.”

Shortly after the stop, officers began questioning why Ms. McClure was driving erratically.

“I knew I wasn’t drunk, I just didn’t feel well,” Ms. McClure said in an interview at her apartment, where she is now largely confined because of brain damage that is said to have been greatly exacerbated by the delay. in medical care.

A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol declined to comment, citing the lawsuit. Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders, who oversees the jail where Ms. McClure was being held, said in a statement that a thorough investigation into the “serious” allegations was underway.

“The safety of our inmates and staff remains our top priority,” he said.

Before her arrest, Ms McClure, 38, enjoyed hiking and cooking. She keeps her pictures from that time now that she has difficulty doing any activity.

She took a job as a night clerk at Walmart in 2022. She was still on the job one night in March of that year when she felt confused. She didn’t seem to be able to operate the scanning device she used for work. Her hands were sweating and her feet tingled.

Her boss let her leave work early.

Officer Jonathan Barnes wrote that he saw Ms. McClure’s car traveling at a low rate of speed and drifting out of its lane. He turned on the lights, but then turned them off when the car did not stop. He later watched as the vehicle went over the raised part of one roundabout and then crashed into another.

After Ms McClure stopped, Mr Barnes can be seen in the video shouting at her to get out of the vehicle. He accused her of fleeing the police and resisting arrest, and handcuffed her. One of her hands was still holding the keys, and the officer accused her of trying to use them as a weapon, even though there was no sign of that on the video.

Ms. McClure maintained that she was not evasive. “I think I’m really tired,” she said. She said she left work because she was “dizzy” and denied taking any substances. “Just let me go, please,” she said.

But Mr Barnes dismissed her protests. “All you’re telling me is that you’re under the influence,” he told her.

At the field sobriety test, records show, another officer asked Ms. McClure to estimate when 30 seconds had passed. She hit it in 35 seconds. Officers reported that she had “obvious tremors of the eyelids.” She informed them that she had smoked marijuana two days earlier. She was then taken to the hospital – not for treatment, but to have her blood drawn for drug testing.

Before those results could be analyzed, Ms. McClure was taken to the county jail. There, Ms. McClure recalled, one of the guards teased her, saying, “Why don’t you get another chance?” She said she replied that she wasn’t drunk but that she wasn’t feeling well.

“I remember them telling me I had to change into their clothes,” Ms. McClure said. “I went to try to put my pants on, but I couldn’t put my pants on. I kept putting the same foot in the same panty.”

From there she was placed in a cell, where at one point she was found in a pool of her own urine, her lawyers said. She started throwing up.

She stayed that way for more than 24 hours, until a prison medical team was called to examine her and advised her to be taken to a hospital, records show. Toxicological analysis found no traces of alcohol or drugs.

Instead, doctors at the hospital diagnosed a brain bleed that likely started with a blood clot and removed part of her skull to relieve pressure, according to Ms. McClure’s lawsuit. The damage to her brain resulted in a “lifetime of diminished capacity,” the lawsuit alleges.

In the lawsuit, Ms. McClure’s lawyer, Anne Vankirk, argued that the long-term injuries were preventable and suffered as a result of the delay in treatment.

Ms McClure struggled to form the words to describe her situation in an interview last week. The episode, she said, left her struggling to take care of herself. He can’t drive or work. Sometimes he can’t remember his doctor’s appointments or even where he is.

“I’m afraid to walk into a store and not know where my ride is parked,” she said. “I’m afraid to go outside.”

Leave a Comment