The city of Wayne has agreed to pay $45,000 to settle with a man who sued after police officers forced him to go to a hospital or be jailed after responding to a call to check on him when he was seen rolling around in his own yard screaming.
Jeff Olsufka's attorney, Adam Sipple, said the case was important because it addressed the "often abused" community-caretaking exception to the Constitution’s warrant requirement.
Under the exception, law enforcement officers can enter a home or yard without a warrant when they have reasonable belief that an emergency exists requiring an officer's attention. For instance, when someone is in danger.
The city argued the case should be dismissed because that's what the officers were doing on the evening of Aug. 18, 2019, after a neighbor called police to check on Olsufka, who had been working in his yard, became dehydrated and fell to the ground.
When Sgt. Brian Swanson and a second officer showed up, they immediately asked if Olsufka was under the influence. He denied it, saying he had a history of seizures and just needed to go inside and drink some water. He stood up and said he was fine.
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But police detained him, and Swanson threw him to the ground and put him in handcuffs when he took a few steps toward his home, according to court records.
Ultimately, after talking with Wayne Police Chief Marlen Chinn, Swanson told Olsufka police would arrest him for disturbing the peace if he didn't agree to a blood screen at a hospital. After many objections, he agreed, and the tests confirmed he was dehydrated and not under the influence.
Then, police refused to pay the bill, so Olsufka sued.
"If Wayne police wanted to help Jeff they would have let him have a glass of water to treat his dehydration, rather than forcing him to submit to drug testing,” Sipple said this week.
Last month's settlement followed an order in October where U.S. District Judge John Gerrard refused to dismiss the case, saying there were questions for a jury to answer.
He said it was Olsufka's Fourth Amendment right to be left alone on his own property absent a reasonable belief of an emergency requiring medical care.
"The community caretaking exception doesn't operate to allow police officers to remain on an individual's curtilage without a warrant because an individual was belligerent or uncooperative in the absence of an emergency, or the need to protect the person or others," the judge said.
During a nearly 10-minute period, Olsufka had calmly conversed with the officers. As the situation devolved, he insulted the officers, but only after he was taken down and handcuffed did his insults become much louder and laced with profanity, the judge said.
Even then, Olsufka didn't resist or make threats toward the officers, or anyone else.
"The evidence viewed in the plaintiff's favor suggests that the options Chinn (the police chief) and Swanson gave the plaintiff were a choice as to how he wanted his Fourth Amendment rights violated. He could consent to a warrantless search of his person, or go to jail for a highly questionable charge of disturbing the peace," Gerrard wrote.
Mark Fitzgerald, the attorney for the city, didn't return a request for comment. Wayne, population 5,500, is 30 miles northeast of Norfolk.
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