Disability related presentations to village employees were the main topic of conversation during the June 29 village Disability Advisory Committee.
At issue was an incident that occurred during the village’s annual Summerfest celebration in June, when Louise Rothenberg, 34, who suffers from epilepsy, began having a seizure while on Madison Street.
Police officers were quick to respond, but Rothenberg said she takes issue with the way she was treated during the seizure.
“The epilepsy I have,” the artist said, “is complex partial seizures. I have a kind of seizure that gets often mistreated. When I am in seizure I get shaking, salivating. It is usually better if people back off and don’t try to hold me down.”
According to Rothenberg and advisory committee member Patricia Martin, that is exactly what the police did not do.
Instead, they said, officers responding allegedly held her down with “excessive force.”
During the incident, Rothenberg, who says she did not know what she was doing, allegedly bit a police officer, while her friends were being pushed back and were not allowed to help her.
Forest Park Chief of Police Jim Ryan, however, said he sees nothing wrong with the way his officers responded.
“I have talked to all of our officers and talked to some of the residents who witnessed,” he said. “During the course of the seizure she became somewhat volatile, combative”only as a result of the seizure”and our officers restrained her in an attempt to minimize any harm she could do to herself or to others. They brought her over to receive help from paramedics.”
Rothenberg, however, said she was treated harshly by the officers and was not given the right to waive medical treatment once she came out of the seizure. The situation, she said, is not unique to Forest Park, it is an Illinois-wide problem of education with emergency response teams, like the police.
“I tend to have these kinds of things happen with paramedics and police who are often told by their bosses that if somebody has a seizure to force them into vans and ambulances,” she said.
This, she said, is the real problem, as the victim is then forced to contend with large medical bills for something they know how to deal with.
“When I come out of it I am supposed to have the right to turn down treatment legally,” she said. “When I had the seizure three police [officers] got really violent with me. When I came out, I found I was with three guys, holding me. I tried to tell them I need to be let go. They kept fighting. They were grabbing me, being very forceful. I got an injury in my leg.”
The paramedics, she said, also violated her rights, forcing her to go to the hospital.
“Again with the paramedics they forced me into the van. By then I was perfectly alert saying I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” she said. “My boyfriend drove behind because they wouldn’t let him [in the ambulance], the doctors there were trying to talk me into getting the treatment. They tried charging me for it when legally I have the right to turn it down.”
Martin, who was with Rothenberg at the time of the incident and who trains people on disability issues said Rothenberg had a right to waive treatment if she answered a series of questions, such as her name, the date, etc., but was never asked these questions, and was instead forced into the ambulance.
“Why wouldn’t they ask any of those questions? She didn’t need to be doing any of this, she didn’t want to pay any of those bills,” she said, adding that when she tried to intervene in Rothenberg’s behalf she was allegedly pushed back by the police.
“They said both of us [Martin and Rothenberg’s boyfriend] didn’t know what we were talking about,” she said. “They had her in restraints. Then both of us asked what hospital they were going to, originally they wouldn’t tell us. It was apparent they didn’t know what they were doing.”
Martin, along with Louis Nese, who is also on the advisory committee, have conducted training sessions for police departments in the area, including the River Forest Police Department, and with the Forest Park Fire Department.
Martin estimates she has approached the Forest Park Police Department about taking the courses “probably about eight times.”
Ryan, however, said he is only aware of one.
“Patricia has only spoken to me once,” Ryan said. “She wrote a note and I called her back immediately. We are always open-minded in training with our officers.”
According to both Martin and Ryan, all “roll-call” police officers will be receiving training on disabilities and on recognizing the different kinds of episodes, such as flashbacks, seizures and panic attacks, that people with disabilities may have and how to properly respond.
“I am coordinating efforts for her to come in and address all of our roll calls,” Ryan said, adding that most of the command staff has already been trained in disability issues.
Martin said she hopes the training will prevent another incident like Rothenberg’s.
“Some of them [Forest Park police officers] actually do know what they are doing as far as different disabilities,” she said, but it has to be 100 percent.
As far as the Rothenberg incident, Ryan said his officers responded appropriately, given the circumstances.
“I personally don’t feel they did anything improper,” Ryan said. “I don’t think it was due to a lack of training. She did bite one of our police officers. If we were to let her continue on, would she be in a position where she would be able to bite some of our citizens?”