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The Daily Tar Heel

Witness says Carrboro police used unnecessary force on overdose patient

What happened next is disputed. The incident report, as well as Carrboro Police Captain Chris Atack, said the officers arrived on the scene, let the EMTs take the patient to the hospital for treatment and then left. A witness, who asked that his name be withheld for privacy reasons, tells a different story.

“The officer wanted to know where the heroin was, where the patient got his heroin. And so he tried to ask the patient, but obviously the patient, lapsing in and out of consciousness, wasn’t going to answer, so he says, ‘OK, I’m gonna wake him up.’”

The witness said the officer administered naloxone — a drug that reverses heroin overdoses, which Carrboro police were trained and authorized to use in October 2014 — quickly in order to question the patient, but the witness said the officer applied the medicine too quickly.

“You’re only supposed to give a certain amount until the patient starts spontaneously breathing,” the witness said. “You give too much, then they’re bound to go into an intense withdrawal, and they can get physically combative and violent.”

The witness said upon seeing the patient enter a withdrawal, the officer told the other responders to stand back before using a Taser on the patient — who the witness described as disoriented, screaming and punching the air.

The Daily Tar Heel and Carrboro police both reported that the first use of naloxone by police officers occurred in January, a month before this alleged use, which was not mentioned in the police incident report of the overdose.

Carrboro police spokesman Chris Atack disputed the witness’ version of the incident.

“The only part of that that has any truth to it is that our officers did respond with fire and EMS to an overdose call. The rest of that is not anywhere near correct,” he said.

Atack read the incident report, and said that the events described by the witness were not consistent with police procedure. He said the police were only on hand for a brief time — 12 minutes — and that no use of force was described in the report.

“Any medical decision is made by medical personnel, and officers don’t interrupt that medical treatment,” Atack said.

He also said that the description of how the naloxone was applied was inaccurate and misleading.

“Naloxone itself cannot be ‘over-administered,’” he said. “You cannot injure someone with naloxone unless you administered so much that they drowned in it.”

One of the side effects of administering naloxone is that the patient can enter into withdrawal by having the opioids suddenly cut off. The witness said that the violent withdrawal was predictable, and that the officer utilized force to subdue an already ill patient.

The witness said that this is why the patient became combative, which is when the officer used a Taser on the patient. The stark difference in the story provided by the police report and the one provided by the witness, as well as the potential abuse of force by the officer, comes after many highly publicized national and international protests of American police brutality, such as in Ferguson, Mo.

Atack said that Carrboro police officers did not use force during the incident, despite the witness’ certainty to the contrary, and that their initial concern is always for the safety of the patient.

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