There are few issues in this country that are as polarizing as our feelings about law enforcement and police brutality. While there seem to be some pretty clear-cut cases of cops going rogue, killing innocents on the job and essentially getting away with it, there are some rather murky cases that deny accountability of the person who brought police to the scene in the first place and exposed officers to legal liability despite their best and appropriate efforts. Such a case was just settled this week in Oxnard.
In June 2012, Oxnard resident Robert Ramirez, 26, who was out on parole, made a decision to avoid arrest after being pulled over for a traffic citation by swallowing an 8-ball of methamphetamine that he had obtained earlier — approximately three and a half grams. Ramirez had been in and out of jail since 2004 on drug charges. Shortly after he was pulled over, he went to a friend’s house where the high dose of the drug started to take effect. The friend called police, stating that he needed help for Ramirez who had taken off his shirt and was acting crazy; the friend told officers that Ramirez wouldn’t “make it” if police did not come.
Now, this is the point where it gets problematic. While many say they know what they would do in a situation where a person is overdosing on drugs, including meth, actually to be there and witness someone who poses a threat to himself or herself and/or others is a high-adrenaline, chaotic situation. Sadly, there are several videos online of people overdosing on meth, so anyone can personally see how that situation plays out — and it’s not pretty. Also, police are trained to restrain people in hostile situations so that medical professionals can help. Police are not medical professionals. Medical professionals are not police. But in the case of Robert Ramirez, who died while being restrained, the public seems to have expected officers to be trained medical professionals. After conducting an investigation of the officers, the District Attorney found their actions to be justified and declined to file criminal charges.
Whether or not one agrees with the police brutality element of this situation is irrelevant in the long run. What does matter is that this week, the city agreed to pay $2.9 million to Ramirez’s family, an amount awarded by a federal jury last July in a civil suit. Oxnard will also pay $1.03 million in attorney fees and other costs. But the underlying consequence of Ramirez’s decision to consume an illegal narcotic in a highly toxic dose and the federal jury’s verdict yielded two results: 1. Drug abusers no longer have any accountability should they die in police custody after consuming too much, and their families may even be rewarded if the situation gets out of hand and leads to death; and 2. Police will ultimately be reluctant to help those who are suffering from overdoses for fear of being sued.
Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams said last year that some of her officers who were not involved in the situation had considered a career change after the federal jury sided with the Ramirez family. We don’t blame those officers. No good deed goes unpunished — especially in this highly litigious country. There is no justice here for the officers and the fact that Ramirez chose to put so many people in a dire situation. It seems as though this jury of peers was motivated to make the police pay while condoning illegal behavior. We can only hope that the Ramirez family spends some of the money on helping others to overcome their drug addictions, lest we see this situation happen all over again — but maybe next time, the officers will be sued for doing nothing to help.