Diabetic Sues New Jersey Police for Injuries During Diabetic Shock

PHILADELPHIA — On the night of Nov. 20, 2010, Dan Fried, a diabetic since childhood, experienced two miracles and one travesty.

The first act of God occurred when, overcome by diabetic shock while driving home from the Jersey Shore, Fried somehow knew to pull onto the shoulder of Route 72 in Burlington County.

But he has no memory of doing so. Nor does he remember the travesty that unfolded as he sat, head slumped, eyelids drooping, while New Jersey state troopers asked him what was up.

Police records, legal documents and police audio and video confirm that the troopers ordered Fried out of his truck and that he ended up beaten and handcuffed on the ground, his wrist broken.

That wrist, by the way, was adorned with Fried’s medical-alert bracelet, which identifies him as diabetic.

The second miracle, the one that saved his life, happened when Fried somehow came out of his stupor as he lay in the back of the squad car. He said he was a diabetic and asked the troopers what had happened to him.

“What happened,” answered one of them, “was you caused mine and two other troopers’ uniforms to get dirty, that’s what happened tonight, all right?”

Fried begged for medical help, and when the ambulance arrived a medic confirmed that his blood-sugar level was dangerously low. He was treated and then taken to the hospital.

Afterward, the troopers drove him to the barracks and charged him with resisting arrest. The charges were later changed to disorderly conduct and eventually dropped – but only after Fried spent thousands of dollars on a lawyer who pleaded with the court for common sense.

Meantime, Fried required two surgeries on his wrist, which has never fully healed and impairs his career as a videographer. But that’s not the only reason for the lawsuit he has filed against New Jersey State Police (whose spokesman referred me to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, which declined comment about the suit).

Another is that he wants the agency to train its staff to recognize the signs of medical impairment in those they stop or detain. Diabetes, especially, is hitting epidemic proportions in this country. So police are bound to interact with more and more diabetics in the course of their work.

Some advice? New Jersey ought to consult with the Philly police department. As a result of a 2003 lawsuit brought against the department on behalf of diabetics who’d been mishandled, the department collaborated with the American Diabetes Association to develop a diabetes-training program for personnel.

Today, that program is lauded by the ADA as a top-notch model that all law-enforcement agencies should emulate. Especially helpful, say experts, is its excellent and straightforward three-part training video.

The videographer who produced the series?

Dan Fried.

“I know. It’s ironic,” says Fried, 46, who lives in Springfield, Delaware County, (and who, in the interest of full disclosure, is an acquaintance of mine).

Foolishly, he says, he thought all law-enforcement agencies were up to speed by now when it comes to recognizing possible medical issues in those they stop or detain.

In Fried’s case, his behavior was erratic and his speech was slurred, the way they might be if he were drunk or high. But he didn’t smell of alcohol, there were no signs of drugs or booze in his truck, and the trooper who conducted the initial interview of Fried (other troopers later arrived) said he never felt threatened by Fried’s strange behavior.

Confoundingly, according to records, the initial officer asked Fried if he was diabetic. Fried answered yes, then no, then appeared confused. The officer interpreted this as Fried giving him “the runaround.”

Another trooper later scolded Fried for not telling them at the outset that he was diabetic. Except that Fried didn’t have the ability to be that emphatic.

“We’re not saying the troopers should have known Dan was diabetic,” says Fried’s lawyer, Aaron Freiwald. “We’re saying they should have suspected he might have been in medical need. There was no evidence that he was inebriated or that they were in danger.”

Those who think it’s unrealistic to expect police to hone their antennae that way should talk to lawyer Alan Yatvin, the ADA’s national chairman of legal advocacy, who says Philly police are among the best he’s seen when it comes to asking medical questions.

“I’m not usually one to praise the Philly police,” says Yatvin, who has brought civil-rights suits against the department. “But they’ve gone all in. They’ve made medical training part of the culture.”

Fried hopes his case forces the same kind of change in the New Jersey State Police.

“My blood sugar was so low, another few hours without treatment and I’d have died; there’s no question,” he says. “It’s scary to know I came that close.”

And a miracle that he’s here to talk about it.

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