Two epileptics arrested in Edmonton for actions during seizures

Posted Aug 20, 2016 by Ken Hanly
Two men who were violent while suffering from epileptic fits have been arrested in Edmonton and charged with criminal offenses.
File image: Edmonton police responding to a  swatting  call
File image: Edmonton police responding to a 'swatting' call
Screen capture from Global News
The arrests raise questions about whether people should be responsible for acts when suffering epileptic attacks that may make it impossible for them to control their actions. It also raises questions about police reactions in such situations.
In one case Neil Ryley said that his family called 9/11 asking for an ambulance when he became violent during a seizure. However, instead several officers arrived alone and he claims they beat him. A police spokesperson, who did not say anything about the alleged beating, claimed that Ryley head-butted an officer breaking his nose. The spokesperson said the other arrest was of a man who was said to be running naked near a school during or shortly after a seizure. The man was tasered and then arrested.
More details are given about the Ryley case in a CBC article. Ryley's partner and ex-wife Tracey Schimpf said she called 911 for an ambulance three times. She also recommended that the paramedics bring officers as well to help them restrain Ryley to bring him to the stretcher. After ninety minutes from the first call, she said that two police officers arrived without an ambulance. The officers went into a bedroom where Ryley was. They had difficulties with Ryley and called for backup. Schimpf said she saw at least six more officers enter the bedroom. She says she heard more struggling and banging. Ryley himself has no memory of what happened but did take photos of bruises on his hips, legs, arms, face and stomach.
There are about 300,000 people in Canada who suffer from epilepsy.
According to the Edmonton Epilepsy Association there are 44 types of epileptic seizure. While a few are 'absence' seizures in which the person seems to be awake but just has a blank stare, many others involve convulsive movements, and hallucinations. People are often disoriented and defensive, and lash out.
A national survey of 671 Canadians with epilepsy in 2011 found that more than half reported that their biggest challenge was a lack of independence in their daily life. Only four percent said their medication left them completely free. A Wikipedia article claims that 70 percent of seizures can be treated successfully through medication.
Retired specialist Dr. Elout Starreveld said: "Police officers should put a little more thought into the case before they start acting physically. They tend to overreact." He said that he had seen those with seizures often act belligerently and push people away. but he said usually you can calm them down and use minimal restraint. A First Aid booklet from Epilepsy Ontario warns not to restrain someone who is experiencing a full or partial seizure. Edmonton police chief told media that the officers who responded to the two cases may not have known that the men were having epileptic seizures. If what Ryley says is true, in his case they should have been informed through the content of the 9/11 call. Ryley's partner Tracey Shimpf said she told the 9/11 dispatcher that she needed medical help and asked for an ambulance. She also said she heard Ryley tell officers when they arrived that he had epileptic seizures. The Edmonton Police Association supported the officers saying that police officers could not be expected to diagnose everyone who has a medical condition.
Liza Silver a law professor at the University of Calgary said that it is doubtful that the charges will stick simply because of the nature of epilepsy. While the epileptic may have performed a prohibited act the intent to commit the act is arguably not present. She said: "In a case of someone who has epilepsy it can be argued that they don't even have the voluntariness that is required for the prohibited act part of an offence. They don't have any control over the conduct. Therefore they really didn't make a choice to commit this offence." If someone cannot control their conduct then they should not be responsible for it, she argued.
The Edmonton Epilepsy Association is calling for better police training as to how to deal with people suffering seizures.