Misinterpreted Symptoms Lead to Delayed Medical Care and Tragic Consequences

In a disturbing case of alleged misinterpretation and negligence, a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed in Tacoma, Washington, claims that a State Patrol trooper mistook Nicole McClure’s life-threatening brain bleed for intoxication, resulting in her wrongful arrest on suspicion of drunken driving and a critical delay in receiving necessary medical care. The lawsuit alleges that McClure, then 38, was booked into the Thurston County Jail, where officers mocked her as she lay on a cell floor for over 24 hours before finally receiving medical attention. Due to the delayed treatment, McClure required emergency surgery to remove a large portion of her skull to relieve the pressure from a frontal-lobe subdural hematoma. As a result, she now faces permanent disabilities and is unable to care for herself or engage in life as she once did.

5 Key Points

  • On March 21, 2022, Trooper Jonathan Barnes pulled over Nicole McClure after she had left work early due to a headache and dizziness, mistaking her symptoms for intoxication.
  • Despite McClure’s evident confusion and disorientation, Barnes arrested her on suspicion of intoxicated driving and felony evading without conducting proper field sobriety tests.
  • Although McClure was taken to a hospital for a blood draw, which later showed no drugs or alcohol in her system, Barnes allegedly failed to inform hospital staff of her earlier collision and concerning symptoms.
  • At the Thurston County Jail, McClure was allegedly denied proper medical attention for more than 24 hours, even as her condition significantly deteriorated, and she was subjected to mockery by officers.
  • The day after her arrest, McClure underwent emergency brain surgery, requiring the removal of a large piece of her skull to relieve pressure on her brain and attempt to preserve her remaining brain function, leading to lasting consequences and severe limitations in her daily life.

The Traffic Stop and Arrest: A Critical Misinterpretation

On the evening of March 21, 2022, Trooper Jonathan Barnes attempted to stop Nicole McClure after observing her driving too slowly and wandering from her lane. Unbeknownst to Barnes, McClure had left work early that day due to a severe headache and dizziness, which were likely early signs of her developing brain bleed. Confused and disoriented, McClure did not respond to Barnes’ emergency lights and continued driving slowly until she ultimately collided with a traffic roundabout, turning off her vehicle. Dash-camera video captures the trooper rushing up to McClure’s car with his gun drawn, yelling for her to exit the vehicle. Barnes then forcefully pushed McClure onto the hood of his cruiser and struggled to handcuff her while accusing her of eluding police. Despite the evident confusion and disorientation displayed by McClure, Barnes proceeded to arrest her on suspicion of intoxicated driving and felony evading without conducting proper field sobriety tests or considering alternative explanations for her behavior.

Neglect and Mockery: The Lack of Medical Attention at the Hospital and Jail

Following her arrest, McClure was transported to a hospital for a blood draw, which would later confirm the absence of any drugs or alcohol in her system. However, the lawsuit alleges that Barnes neglected to inform hospital staff of McClure’s earlier collision and the concerning symptoms she had exhibited during the traffic stop. This critical omission may have contributed to the hospital’s failure to identify her underlying medical emergency and provide the immediate care she desperately needed. Instead, after the blood draw, Barnes proceeded to transport McClure to the Thurston County Jail, where she would endure over 24 hours of neglect and ridicule as her condition continued to deteriorate. The lawsuit paints a disturbing picture of the treatment McClure received at the jail, alleging that officers mocked her, laughing and making insensitive comments suggesting she should “Have another shot,” as she lay helpless on the floor, unable to control her bodily functions. It was only after McClure began vomiting uncontrollably that she was finally moved to another cell and “forcibly changed” by a jail employee, yet still not provided with the medical attention she so urgently required.

Emergency Intervention and Life-Altering Consequences

It was not until “a few hours later, [when] a member of the jail’s medical team was called,” that McClure’s dire condition was finally recognized, and she was “advised [to] be taken to the hospital immediately,” according to the lawsuit. The day after her arrest, McClure underwent emergency brain surgery, during which doctors were forced to remove a large piece of her skull to alleviate the dangerous buildup of pressure on her brain. Her attorney, Anne Vankirk, stated that this drastic measure was necessary to “save her remaining brain function.” Despite this intervention, the consequences of the alleged negligence and delay in treatment have been devastating for McClure. After spending 17 days hospitalized, she now lives with the life-altering effects of severe traumatic brain injury, requiring constant care and unable to engage in the activities and relationships that once brought meaning to her life. Vankirk emphasizes the tragedy of the situation, noting, “Had Nicole received immediate medical attention, her condition would have been significantly easier to treat and the outcome far less severe.”

The Pursuit of Justice and Accountability

The federal civil-rights lawsuit, filed in Tacoma on February 1, 2024, seeks to hold the Washington State Patrol and Thurston County Jail accountable for their alleged roles in the events leading to McClure’s devastating injury and permanent disabilities, by bringing this legal action, McClure and her attorney aim to shed light on the systemic failures and individual negligence that they believe contributed to the tragic outcome. While the Washington State Patrol has acknowledged the lawsuit, spokesperson Chris Loftis stated that the agency does not comment on pending litigation, confirming that Trooper Barnes did not face disciplinary action for his conduct during the incident. Similarly, Tara Tsehlana, representing the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which defends the jail, declined to discuss the specifics of the case, offering only a general statement affirming the county’s commitment to the safety of inmates, staff, and the public. As the lawsuit progresses, it will be critical to examine both sides’ evidence, testimony, and arguments to determine the extent of the alleged misconduct and the appropriate measures for ensuring justice and accountability.

The Importance of Proper Training and Protocols

The disturbing allegations in Nicole McClure’s lawsuit underscore the importance of proper training and protocols for law enforcement officers and correctional staff in recognizing and responding to medical emergencies. The failure to distinguish between the symptoms of a severe medical condition, such as a brain bleed, and the signs of intoxication can lead to devastating consequences, as alleged in this case. Officers must receive comprehensive training in identifying and differentiating between various medical conditions and substances that may impair an individual’s behavior or cognitive function. Additionally, clear protocols must be in place to ensure that individuals in custody receive prompt medical attention when necessary, regardless of the suspected cause of their condition. By prioritizing the health and safety of those in their care, law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities can work to prevent tragedies like the one alleged in McClure’s case and ensure that individuals receive the timely medical intervention they need.