Day v. Wooten, No. 19-1930 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Day, age 18, weighed 312 pounds and had an underlying heart condition. Day was confronted outside a store after apparently shoplifting a watch. Day refused to return to the store. A mall security officer noticed Day had a gun. A chase ensued; Day eventually collapsed. Police arrived. Day’s gun was out of his reach. Officers handcuffed Day behind his back. Day stated he was having trouble breathing; officers instructed him to take deep breaths. Day would not maintain a seated position. Officers positioned Day to lie on his side to prevent Day from asphyxiating by rolling onto his stomach. An ambulance arrived to evaluate Day five minutes later. Day appeared to breathe normally, stated he had no preexisting medical conditions and was able to speak clearly. After multiple tests, paramedics concluded Day did not need to go to a hospital. When the jail wagon arrived, Day was unresponsive, lying on his back with his hands still cuffed. A second ambulance arrived 43 minutes after the first. Day was pronounced dead. There were no visible signs of trauma. The autopsy report listed his cause of death as “Sudden Cardiac Death due to Acute Ischemic Change” with contributory causes: “Sustained respiratory compromise due to hands cuffed behind the back, obesity, underlying cardiomyopathy.” Day had never complained about the handcuffs.
In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the court concluded the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. There is no precedent clearly establishing that the officers violated any right of an out-of-breath arrestee to not have his hands cuffed behind his back after he complains of difficulty breathing. There was no evidence that the handcuffs were the cause of Day’s breathing difficulty before the autopsy report.