After three years of behind-the-scenes litigation, a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a man “dumped” out of a wheelchair behind the emergency room at Mobile Infirmary has ended with a confidential settlement.Despite previous attempts to reach an agreement, the suit brought by family members of 24-year-old LeJuan Johnson, proceeded to a jury trial before Judge Michael Youngpeter this week.
However, after presenting opening arguments, attorneys for the plaintiff and all three defendants settled the case before any witness testimony was given. While an assistant for Judge Youngpeter was able to confirm that a settlement had been reached, the details are confidential.
The lawsuit made headlines when it was filed over how Johnson was removed from Mobile Infirmary’s campus after allegedly being “combative” during a visit to the emergency room on the evening of March 5, 2013. According to evidence highlighted during the brief trial, Johnson — who was HIV positive — had gone to the ER that night due to “extreme weakness, altered mental status and nausea.”
However, around 10 p.m. that night, security camera footage from the emergency room’s ambulance bay and the roof of a parking garage captured Sgt. Jerry Ripple and security guard Shawn Poff dragging Johnson out of the emergency room, placing him in a wheelchair and then dumping him on the other side of a fence separating Mobile Infirmary from the University of South Alabama’s Children’s and Women’s Hospital.
Four hours later, another guard found Johnson before and reported it to security staff at the USA facility who finally called for an ambulance around 2 a.m. Johnson was transported to Springhill Hospital where he died almost two weeks later on March 18, 2013.
That footage, however, was never released to the public because Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Michael Youngpeter sealed it as evidence shortly after the case was filed.
Lagniappe has attempted to obtain a copy of that footage, and as recently as Wednesday, sent a formal letter requesting it be unsealed. That request was denied.
“We agree with you that this video, taken at the Mobile Infirmary — which receives hundreds of millions of tax dollars to render care to the poor and needy in our local community — is of legitimate and significant interest to the media and our fellow citizens,” David McDonald, one of the attorney’s representing Johnson’s family, said via email. “Unfortunately, we remain bound by the Judge’s order and verbal instructions not to release the video that the Mobile Infirmary has successfully kept from the public eye for the past three years.”
With a confidential settlement, it’s likely the footage will never be released. However, footage from both cameras was played one time during the opening arguments this week.
A photographer with Local 15 WPMI was able to obtain some clips of the footage being shown to jurors in Youngpeter’s courtroom, and that footage can be seen here.
During the defense’s opening arguments, attorneys representing Mobile Infirmary acknowledged that dumping Johnson off of the property in 40-degree weather was “poor judgement” that went against the hospital’s “policies and its core values.”
However, all the defendants maintained the events that occurred on March 5, 2013, at Mobile Infirmary had nothing to do with Johnson’s death at Springhill Hospital two weeks later. Instead, the defense argued Johnson died because he had stopped taking his HIV medication,which caused several of his body’s vital organs to fail.
Norman Waldrop Jr., who represented the hospital, also said Mobile Infirmary launched its own investigation within days of the incident and took corrective action long before Johnson’s family hired an attorney.
While admitting dumping Johnson off of the property was not the proper way to handle the situation, Poff and Ripple’s attorneys said both men were only acting to protect patients and staff at Mobile Infirmary from Johnson, whom they claim had become “combative,” refused treatment and gotten angry multiple times.
“(Johnson) had to go somewhere,” Poff’s attorney Michael Upchurch told the jury. “I’m not saying it was a perfect decision, but there was never any intent to harm and (Poff) certainly didn’t know (Johnson) was going to lay there for four hours.”
Poff and Mobile Infirmary were also named as defendants in a separate lawsuit filed by Jennifer McIntyre — a suit the hospital ultimately lost earlier this year.
Poff was accused of using unnecessary force when he arrested McIntyre in February of 2013 while she was visiting her dying father at Mobile Infirmary. McIntyre filed her lawsuit after her criminal charges were dropped based on security camera footage from the incident.
While Poff nor Ripple are employed by Mobile Infirmary any longer, Ripple is still a member of the Mobile Police Department where he works in the narcotics unit.