The city of Boston reached a $1.3 million settlement with a Black man who was arrested by police officers while he was having a stroke. The officers reportedly assumed Al Copeland was drunk though he was having a medical emergency.
According to WBUR, the $1.3 million is one of the largest payments the city has made in the last decade to settle a police wrongdoing complaint. The incident occurred after Copeland pulled his car over because he was feeling nauseous while driving. At the time, the 62-year-old was unaware he was having a stroke.
Boston police officers later found him barely conscious in his car. But instead of making arrangements for an ambulance to come to the scene, they rather arrested him. In their report, the officers claimed they smelled alcohol, but the 62-year-old Black man said the last time he had a drink was in 1995.
Copeland’s wife, Valerie, told the news outlet she feels race played a factor in the incident. “Why they didn’t assume he was sick?” Valerie questioned. “I can only and strongly believe it’s because he’s a Black male.”
The officers took Copeland to the police station and detained him though he could hardly stand. Copeland also ended up hitting his head on the wall of a holding cell bathroom while he was using the facility, police records stated.
Officers eventually called an ambulance five hours after he was arrested. But that was after he started vomiting. Copeland’s time at the station was captured on surveillance footage. “To see how uncaring they were,” Valerie said. “It is unfortunately — it should be shocking, but it’s not.”
And though Copeland was transported to the Tufts Medical Center for treatment, he did not receive immediate medical care. Police records show medical officials at the facility also assumed the ailing Black man was drunk and did not attend to him for another seven hours, WBUR reported.
Doctors ultimately established Copeland hadn’t consumed drugs or alcohol after his wife managed to locate him. His condition had, however, exacerbated at the time. Copeland ended up spending weeks at the hospital before he was taken to rehab. To date, Copeland is still suffering from the effects of the stroke.
“My balance, my attitude, my appetite,” he said. “Tasting food, and some cognitive things that are still happening, and some physical things as well.”
He also said he can’t recall what happened during the encounter with the police, and he only remembers waking up at a rehabilitation hospital two months later. “I heard … they treated you like you was a drunk on the street,” Copeland recalled. “That’s what I heard … and it pissed me off. Immediately, I went to: all these white addicts all over nodding all over the place, they treat me like I’m a drunk on the street.”
Tufts rendered an apology to Copeland in a statement to Newsweek. “We are certainly very sorry that these events occurred,” the medical facility said in the statement. “Due to patient privacy laws, we are not permitted to comment on any individual patient’s clinical care.”
The city reportedly proposed to settle after Copeland’s attorney got in touch with the city. The Black man also received the settlement despite not filing a lawsuit. The settlement was also paid last summer in the wake of the nationwide protests that ensued after the death of George Floyd.
The police department, which hasn’t apologized to Copeland, only opened an investigation into the incident after the Black man’s attorney got in touch with the city. Investigations established two officers and a sergeant erred in their handling of the incident, citing neglect of duty. But that wasn’t for detaining Copeland on suspicion of being drunk. It was for the officers not quickly responding after Copeland hit his head on the wall, WBUR reported.
“People don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Valerie said. “That’s what we’re looking for. And so the [internal affairs investigation] report basically says: no lessons to be learned here.”
The officers are yet to be disciplined.