CA8: ER patient became agitated and security and an LEO realized he was armed; search was reasonable

Defendant came to the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in downtown Minneapolis having been shot in the leg. He refused to let them remove his pants to treat the wound. A hospital protection officer was holding him down, and he figured out defendant was armed and told the others. A sheriff’s deputy came over and participated and frisked him for the gun. Even if the public hospital’s staff were governed by the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable under the circumstances here. Defendant showed at the ER and became agitated and threatened to leave which might have killed him. Finally, the exclusionary rule should not be applied here. United States v. Conley, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 13932 (8th Cir. June 6, 2023):

Applying this balancing test here, we conclude that the HCMC protection officers’ seizure of Conley in the stabilization room was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. We start with “the government’s interest in the officers’ actions.” Harris, 747 F.3d at 1018. A noninvestigatory seizure can be justified by an officer’s reasonable belief “that an emergency exists requiring the officer’s attention.” Graham, 5 F.4th at 885; cf. Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S. Ct. 1596, 1599 (2021) (reiterating that warrantless intrusions onto private property are reasonable if there is a “need to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury” (cleaned up)). Here, the government underscores that the protection officers seized Conley “to allow medical staff to safely and effectively evaluate his gunshot wound and potentially render life-saving medical treatment.” And the district court’s factual findings establish that the officers were confronted with what appeared to be a medical emergency requiring an immediate response: Conley had a fresh gunshot wound in his thigh; medical staff worried that Conley was suffering from internal bleeding that needed immediate attention; and Conley’s refusal to remove his clothes prevented medical staff from providing potentially life-saving treatment.

Additionally, once Conley became agitated on the gurney, the protection officers had a strong interest in ensuring the safety of the medical staff trying to treat him. See Graham, 5 F.4th at 885 (“[W]hen officers act in a noninvestigatory capacity, they may briefly detain an individual to ensure her safety and that of the officers or the public ….”). Indeed, the need to preserve a safe environment is particularly acute in a hospital emergency room, where medical professionals are expected to make quick decisions while treating patients who present with urgent medical needs. And Conley’s conduct forced the protection officers to “make a split-second decision in the face of an emergency”—namely, “to either stand idly by, permitting a dangerous situation to continue uninterrupted, or act, addressing the potential danger” in order to protect medical staff. Harris, 747 F.3d at 1017. When faced with such circumstances, “we have reasoned that officers are expected to act.” Id. at 1017–18.

Weighed against these interests is Conley’s “right to be free from government intrusion.” Id. at 1018. But Conley voluntarily brought himself to HCMC’s emergency room to seek treatment for a gunshot wound that medical staff considered potentially life-threatening. Given those circumstances, Conley should have reasonably expected the sort of intrusions that are inherent to the provision of emergency medical care, including the removal of one’s clothes to facilitate treatment and—if compelled by the need to maintain a safe environment—even temporary physical restraint. Cf. Buckley, 9 F.4th at 762–63 (concluding that “[i]t was not objectively unreasonable” for HCMC paramedics to sedate a patient “who needed medical intervention” and whom the paramedics perceived to be “dangerously agitated”). To the extent Conley’s reluctance to receive medical treatment factors into our reasonableness analysis, it arguably would have been unreasonable for HCMC staff to have allowed Conley to leave the emergency room without first taking steps to at least stabilize him. See id. at 762 (“[Paramedics would face a kind of Catch-22[:] treat the [patient] or don’t treat him, but face a lawsuit either way.” (cleaned up) (quoting Thompson v. Cope, 900 F.3d 414, 423 (7th Cir. 2018)).

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