The city of Boston has paid a settlement of $1.3 million to a 64-year-old Black man who was arrested as he suffered a stroke.
In April 2019, Al Copeland was driving in Boston when he started to feel nauseous and pulled over. He didn’t know it at that moment, but the then-62-year-old was having a stroke.
“I was afraid,” he recalled in an interview with WBUR. “I say, well, at least if anything happens to me, somebody will find me.”
Police found him slumped in his car and barely conscious but instead of calling an ambulance, officers assumed he was drunk and arrested Copeland. The officers wrote in their report that they smelled alcohol on the man however, Copeland says he hasn’t had a drink since 1995.
Copeland was taken to the police station and could barely stand. According to police records, after being left in the holding cell to use the bathroom, Copeland fell to the floor and banged his head on the wall. Officers left the man alone in the cell to “sleep it off,” records show.
It was only when Copeland threw up that officers called an ambulance – five hours after officers first left him in the cell.
Once transported to the hospital, the situation didn’t get any better for Copeland. Police records show that medical staff at Tufts Medical Center also assumed he was drunk and left him in the emergency room for seven more hours.
It was only after his wife, Valerie Copeland, tracked down her husband that doctors confirmed he wasn’t drunk and had no drugs or alcohol in his system.
“Why they didn’t assume he was sick?” Valerie asks. “I can only and strongly believe it’s because he’s a Black male.”
By the time doctors finally realized he was having a stroke, the damage had already been done. Copeland remained hospitalized for weeks and then needed to go through rehab. He had to resign from his job with the MBTA and he still has trouble walking.
“My balance, my attitude, my appetite,” Copeland told WBUR. “Tasting food, and some cognitive things that are still happening, and some physical things as well.”
Tufts Medical Center apologized for the initial misdiagnosis and says it has since added social workers to help patients who can’t communicate and that it has also launched a center for diversity, equity, and inclusion to help tackle care disparities.
The Boston Police Department conducted an investigation after Copeland’s attorney contacted the city.
The investigation, which ended more than a year ago, concluded that the three officers neglected their duties by not responding quickly enough when Copeland fell and hit his head.
As of to date, none of the officers involved have been disciplined, WBUR reported.