On an October 2011 morning while driving her daughter to Garden Grove High School, Robin Winger couldn’t have known she was on the verge of entering a bizarre, seven-year ordeal.
Winger had swerved in her Chevrolet Suburban, struck a mirror on a city vehicle and, not aware of events, kept driving. Police officer Michael Elhami saw the incident, gave chase on his motorcycle and initiated a traffic stop. Elhami asked Winger to identify herself, but the woman, who complained she felt serious ill, struggled with an answer.
Elhami: “Spell it.”
Elhami: “What’s your last name?”
Winger, sobbing, according to a police recording: “Robin Robin. I’m sorry. I’m sorry . . . My Robin is Robin.”
Noting the driver appeared dazed, confused and physically impaired, the officer hailed the fire department whose paramedics told cops it was “imperative” that she be taken to a hospital immediately.
But Winger declined and signed refusal of medical treatment waiver.
After the paramedics left, officer Charles Starnes gave Winger field sobriety tests, which she failed. Starnes asked her what time it was. She replied, “Maybe 30.”
Though he smelled no hint of booze and it was 8 a.m., he arrested her for driving under the influence and placed her in Garden Grove’s jail, where she remained curled up on the floor for more than four hours while officers watched.
When Winger’s boyfriend picked her up, he quickly drove her to UCI Medical Center after noticing her face was drooping and she was dragging a leg.
Doctors discovered she’d suffered a severe stroke in the left side of her brain.
Winger filed a lawsuit in 2013, claiming the officers had been negligent by not recognizing she’d been mentally incapacitated when she rejected treatment at the scene.
Jerry Steering, Winger’s Newport Beach-based lawyer, accused the cops of “total indifference to someone who was in grave distress” and asserted that “because of the delay in being taken to the hospital, Winger suffered substantially more brain damage than she would have suffered had there not been such a delay.”
According to Steering, even if the officers believed Winger “was high on drugs, she was so obviously disabled that she still should have been taken to a hospital for possible drug overdose.”
But this week inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford didn’t share Steering’s outrage.
The judge observed the law’s “fairly broad grant of immunity in favor of public employees,” sided with the cops and handed them a summary judgment verdict.
“It’s unclear that the officers had reason to know that Winger was having a stroke,” Guilford wrote in a five-page opinion. “More importantly, even if they did know, it’s impossible to say they ‘failed to take reasonable action to summon medical care,’ since it’s undisputed that Elhami did just that—he called the paramedics. Winger refused further medical treatment, so it’s unclear what more the officers could have done to help her.”
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.