I just got off the phone with Mr. Universe himself, Doug Burns. (Whoa, another memory-maker I can thank the diabetes for). As you all know, Doug was recently maced and roughhoused by police during a hypoglycemic event at a movie theater here in Redwood City, CA. During the episode, the police assumed he was intoxicated, despite a bystander’s insistance that it might be a diabetes issue. He was handcuffed, thrown into a car, and driven to a nearby ER (all without being given any sugar, I might add).
The whole thing was rather ugly, but later he was able to provide ample evidence that he was indeed experiencing insulin shock. So Game Over, right? WRONG! If you can believe it, despite multiple testimonials from physicians and colleagues, the new and rather ambitious Redwood City district attorney isn’t letting go of this one: starting next week, Doug will be forced to go to trial to prove his innocence, with all the expenses, inconvenience, and negative publicity that entails.
How can they press charges? Supposedly “criminal assault and resisting arrest.” Even though the record shows that Doug never struck anyone, and in fact, he was the only party injured in the incident, a week-and-half later one of the policemen suddenly reported an injury — “strained arm and shoulders.”
I called the Redwood City DA’s office and they confirmed the scheduled dates for Doug’s “pre-trial conference” on May 30 and jury trial on July 2 (no web access to this info unfortunately, but it’s a matter of public record so anyone can confirm via phone). The only way the case could be dismissed, they tell me, is if Doug pleads “no contest” and “takes responsibility for the crime” — meaning up to a year in county jail.
And here’s the thing: Doug is stuck between a rock and a hard place, he tells me, because he’s neither the litigious nor the “victim mentality” type. So he would prefer not to counter-sue, but is being encouraged to do so solely in order to stand up for the rights of all diabetics who may one day find themselves in a similar quandary. “If you don’t sue, in essence you’re saying it’s OK for people in insulin shock to be treated this way,” one adviser told him.
“This is crazy. I feel like I’m ‘guilty until proven innocent’ here. But there’s also a bright side to it because so many people have come forward to support me and share their fears about insulin shock,” he says. “So many kids said the same sort of thing has happened to them, and their friends thought they were on drugs. There’s such a feeling of shame that ‘my sugar was low and something bad happened.’”
Also from the “would-you-believe” file: the authorities pressing charges are publicly chastising Doug for negligence in his diabetes care, on the basis that he was temporarily on injections rather than his usual Animas pump at the time of the incident. This was because he had run out of infusion sets during recent conference travel and was awaiting a new box.
“If life were perfect, this would never have happened… but they need to understand that anyone with type 1 diabetes is pretty much at risk for hypoglycemia at any time,” Doug says.
He also adds: “So many parents have contacted me, sharing their fear that something like this will happen to their child one day. Here I was a well-dressed adult. What if I was 14-year-old kid in baggy pants — who was actually a sweet kid — or what if I were African-American? How would I have been treated then?” Good point, Doug!
Still, the message he would like to convey to the Diabetes Community is: “Please don’t let this dampen your spirits. This is one extreme case and I’m not going to let (the authorities) neglect their responsibility for not allowing this to happen to someone else.”
Doug has also asked me to post a HEARTFELT THANK-YOU to all his supporters who have come forward from Texas, Brazil, Germany, and all over the world! Understandably, he hasn’t had time to answer each email individually, but he hopes to do so eventually.
In other Doug Burns news, on a more positive note, he’ll be launching a new community website called SugarFitness.com next month. This will be an interactive forum focusing on exercise and dietary issues moderated by Mr. Universe himself, plus some very cool digital athletics demos, I understand.
Got a message for Doug re: his upcoming trial? Feel free to post it here.