Locked out with frozen feet, New Brighton man sues police
The New Brighton man's lawsuit says police and jailers refused him medical care for severe frostbite for 42 hours.
By JAMES WALSH, Star Tribune
Last update: February 25, 2010 - 9:37 PM
After locking himself out of his apartment in the pre-dawn hours of a bitter January day, Patrick Uzalac started tossing snowballs at his neighbors' windows for help.
Somebody called the cops.
What followed, according to Uzalac, was 42 hours of suffering with red, frostbitten feet as his pleas for help fell on the deaf ears of New Brighton police and then Ramsey County jailers.
On Thursday, Uzalac filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, alleging that officials refused him adequate medical care. He is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.
"The [police and jail] officers should have recognized the need for medical care," said Robert Hajek, Uzalac's attorney. "These people are trained."
It is not the first time questions have been raised about the treatment of ill or injured inmates at the Ramsey County jail. In 2007, a diabetic man who was being held there died in his cell. It was the second death of an inmate at the jail since 2006.
A spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office said officials have not yet seen the suit and had no comment. New Brighton police officials were not available for comment Thursday afternoon.
It was about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 9 when Uzalac went outside his apartment for a smoke. He was waiting for a friend to come over and didn't bother to put on heavier clothing. He realized he forgot his keys as the door slammed shut, leaving him outside wearing only socks, shorts and a T-shirt.
He started tossing snowballs at windows for help. Shortly before 5 a.m., New Brighton police arrived and asked Uzalac what he was doing. When they learned he had a warrant for giving false information to police, they took him to jail.
Uzalac said he asked to get shoes or boots for his feet "which had become red and frozen." He said police refused.
At the jail
At the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, Uzalac said he again complained about his painful and, now blistered, feet. Jail staff ignored him, he said, and placed him in a cell.
Twenty-one hours later, a nurse gave Uzalac "a couple Ibuprofen," Hajek said. It was another 21 hours before the same nurse actually looked at his feet, Hajek said.
"Then she says, 'Oh my God, I've never seen anything like that' and tells the guards to get a wheelchair. 'We have to take him to the ER immediately,'" Hajek said.
By then, Uzalac's sister, who had been looking all over for him to go to their mother's funeral in northern Iowa, came to bail Uzalac out. Because the family was worried about missing the funeral, they drove to the emergency room -- at a hospital in Mason City, Iowa.
On Thursday, the lawyer acknowledged that his client is no saint. He has several DWIs and other offenses on his record. It makes no difference, he said.
"Whether he was a murderer or a jaywalker, it doesn't matter," Hajek said. "He has a right to medical care."
Pictures of the damage to Uzalac's feet at the source: http://www.startribune.com/local/east/85439247.html?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUUsZ