St. Paul to settle ex-paramedic's lawsuit
ST. PAUL — When a former paramedic saw a man bleeding in a St. Paul road, it never occurred to her to not stop to help.
But Christie Jones said her actions as a good Samaritan in 2013 ran up against a St. Paul police officer who struck her in the chest when she tried to warn him about being exposed to the man's blood. Jones, who was 48 at the time and is disabled, said the officer soon twisted her hands behind her back, handcuffed her and cited her for obstructing legal process, a charge that was later dismissed.
"All she was there to do was help and she ended up in the back of the squad in handcuffs," said Zorislav Leyderman, Jones' attorney.
Jones filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Paul and the officers involved. The St. Paul City Council is due to vote Wednesday, April 26, on a $23,500 settlement to Jones.
The city denies Jones' allegations and says it is not liable, according to the settlement agreement. But St. Paul officials agreed to settle because it "determined that the cost and risks of continuing to litigate the case outweighed the cost of settling it," said St. Paul City Attorney Samuel Clark.
St. Paul is already over its budget for legal settlements for the year, after agreeing to a record $2 million earlier this month for a man who sued over being bit by a St. Paul police dog and kicked by an officer. The city's finance director said there is enough in the general fund to cover the difference.
Jones, of St. Paul, said her lawsuit was never about the money. She said she would not have filed it if she received an apology from the police department and assurance that the officer would be disciplined.
"What I've known my whole life is that police work with EMTs and firefighters, and we have each other's back and treat each other with respect," Jones said. "This was a betrayal."
A man bleeding in the road
Jones was driving home from a physical therapy appointment on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2013, when she saw a man dripping blood on Thomas Avenue, a few blocks from Marion Street.
The man told Jones his girlfriend had stabbed him in the neck. Jones, who said she spent 20 years as a paramedic in Kentucky, Georgia and California, told the man she was a former paramedic and asked if she could help, according to her lawsuit. Jones noticed he had a severe cut on his elbow, but no stab wounds on his neck.
When St. Paul officer Armando Abla-Reyes arrived, Jones said she told him what she knew of the man's injuries. Jones, who wasn't wearing protective gloves, said she had accidentally touched a blood-soaked area of the man's shirt and she saw Abla-Reyes was about to do the same. The officer also wasn't wearing gloves and Jones said she didn't want him potentially exposed to an infectious disease.
"I told him, 'Watch it,' and put my hand out," said Jones, adding that she didn't touch the officer. Jones said in her lawsuit that Abla-Reyes responded by swinging his arm and hitting her in the chest, causing her to stumble backward. Jones, who had a ruptured ankle tendon, was wearing an ortho-boot at the time.
Abla-Reyes declined to comment to the Pioneer Press.
The officers named in Jones' lawsuit, including Abla-Reyes, asked U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank to dismiss the suit. Frank ruled in November that some aspects of the lawsuit could move forward, while parts should be thrown out, including the suit's assertion that Abla-Reyes used excessive force when he struck Jones in the chest.
"When Officer Abla-Reyes first reached the scene ... (he) did not know what had transpired, who Jones was, the extent of (the man's) injuries, or whether the scene was secure," Frank wrote.
Handcuffed in a squad car
After Jones' initial encounter with Abla-Reyes, she said she told him she wanted to file a complaint with a supervisor and walked away. She said she used her cellphone to start filming from about 20 to 30 feet away, so she could later identify the officer for a complaint.
About a minute later, Jones said Abla-Reyes approached and asked for her name and birthdate, which she provided him. He then twisted her hands behind her back and handcuffed her, telling her to get in a squad car, according to the lawsuit.
Jones said she told Abla-Reyes that she had an insulin pump and ortho-boot, and couldn't fully get into the squad. After he detained her for about 15 minutes, Abla-Reyes released Jones with a citation, which was later dismissed.
In Frank's November ruling, the judge said he would allow to proceed both Jones' claims about her arrest and Abla-Reyes' force during it.
The city argued that the officer had probable cause to arrest Jones because, when Abla-Reyes directed questions to the injured man, she "interjected to answer," according to a summary in Frank's order. She also "physically interfered with Officer Abla-Reyes by placing her arm in front of him when he was trying to reach" the man, the summary continued.
Frank wrote that if a jury believed Jones' version, it "could find that Officer Abla-Reyes lacked arguable probable cause to arrest. On the other hand, should the jury believe (the officers') version of the facts, then Officer Abla-Reyes will likely prevail on this claim."
The judge urged both sides to reach a settlement.
Jones said she decided not to file an internal affairs complaint against Abla-Reyes because she didn't think anything would come of it.
Jones' attorney, Leyderman, wrote in a court filing last year that Abla-Reyes' conduct with Jones was similar to another case. Andrew Henderson, who frequently films police, was videotaping officers behind St. Paul police headquarters in 2015 when Abla-Reyes detained Henderson and told him the sidewalk was private property, Leyderman pointed out.
Abla-Reyes, who has been a St. Paul officer since 1995, is not currently a patrol officer. He works in the police department's community engagement unit handling permit and event planning.
Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @MaraGottfried.
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