Attorney defends cop who pulled over ambulance

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Bothered that an ambulance driver failed to yield to him as he raced to provide backup on a call -- and angered further when he thought the driver flipped him an obscene gesture -- state trooper Daniel Martin decided to stop the ambulance and give the driver a piece of his mind.

What Martin didn't know then, his attorney said Monday, was that there was a patient in the back of the ambulance.

"He's not this ogre, this depriver of people's rights," said Gary James, the trooper's attorney. "He's a good man."

Since a cell phone video of the dispute taken by the patient's son was released last month, Martin has faced criticism and has been placed on paid leave pending an investigation. The patient, Stella Davis of Boley, Okla., was eventually treated and released from the hospital, but relatives and others have questioned why the ambulance was stopped and pushed for answers.

After the trooper stopped the vehicle, a paramedic jumped from the back and demanded that Martin talk to him instead of the driver, according to a longer video, taken by the dashboard camera in Martin's cruiser, that authorities released over the weekend.

"You get back in the ambulance, I'm talking to the driver," Martin said.

"I'm in charge of this unit, sir," the paramedic tells Martin, an Iraq war veteran who returned from the Middle East about a month before the May 24 incident in Paden, 40 miles east of Oklahoma City.

Martin tells the driver he's going to give him a ticket for failure to yield.

"I ain't going to be putting up with that [expletive]," Martin said. "You understand me?"

Then the paramedic, Maurice White Jr., said: "And I won't put up with you talking to my driver like that."

The situation escalates, with White repeatedly telling Martin he has a patient that he wants to take to the hospital, and Martin telling him to get back in the ambulance. They soon begin scuffling on the side of the road as Martin attempts to arrest White, at one point grabbing him by the throat, video shows.

Martin's attorney said the trooper -- whom he described as a decorated sailor and a 15-year law enforcement veteran -- didn't realize there was a patient in the ambulance until well after the situation had intensified. He either didn't hear it or it didn't register, he said.

Martin was trying to make a legitimate traffic stop, James said, when White became hostile, refused to comply with the patrolman's orders and caused the situation to spiral out of control.

James said the law allows an officer to pull over an ambulance if its emergency lights and sirens aren't running, as was the case in this incident.

Thompson Gouge, spokesman for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which employs White as a paramedic, said the use of lights and sirens depends on the patient's medical situation. Sometimes the lights and sirens often won't be used when patients are transported to the hospital in order to keep them calm.

White's attorney, Richard O'Carroll, said the veteran paramedic was trying to protect his patient and that the trooper had no reason to stop the ambulance, let alone try and arrest White. The trooper's arms were bruised when White resisted arrest, James said.

"If the guy was bruised, it didn't make any difference," O'Carroll said. "He ought not to stop ambulance drivers for hurting his feelings."

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