A Richmond County man wants changes to a local police department after he said he was tased, handcuffed and put in the back of a police car following an experience that nearly killed behind the wheel of his car. NewsChannel 6 sat down with the disabled veteran who explained how police got it all wrong. He told us his family came forward in part to bring attention to an illness many people face.
It’s not just about health though. Walter McNeil, 62, wants to make sure officers with Blythe Police Department do the right thing when they approach anyone who meets trouble on the road.
“I don’t remember much after leaving the gas station until the car came to a stop in Blythe,” McNeil said of his time driving on Wednesday, December 5.
Walter McNeil takes the same route every time he leaves his VA hospital appointments. That route includes going down 15th Street, with a quick stop inside the gas station on MLK and then home down Deans Bridge Road. Last Wednesday, he missed the Tobacco Road exit that would have led him to his Hephzibah home.
He elaborated, “I must have drove from there past where I always get off at and ended up way out there in Blythe.”
Blythe Police captured the incident on dashboard camera and from their vantage point, the 62-year-old could be seen in his car driving erratically.
“All I know is I’m riding,” McNeil said. “I don’t even know how or whatever. I couldn’t stop it. I must have been stepping on the gas. I don’t know.”
An incident report from that day states McNeil was driving south on Deans Bridge road when he nearly hit off-duty Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy Christopher Robinson. The report states he crossed the median airborne, was out of control and landed in the northbound lane. It goes on to say officers caught up with McNeil, but he drove away spinning and doing circles. In all he took out a mailbox and police said he posed a great danger to the safety of the public and the officers.
NewsChannel 6 learned from Blythe City Attorney Chris Dube that those officers were Blythe Police Chief Rick Worman and Officer Greg Stroud.
When officers approached his car with their guns drawn, McNeil claims he still did not know what was going on. The three officers pulled him out of the car.
“The other officer had my head down in the dirt with his knees and then the other officer is behind him and he kept hitting me up in here [his side] with a taser,” said McNeil who spent 11 years as a law enforcement officer himself. “I was trying to keep still as possible hoping they would stop.”
Tywanna McNeil, Walter’s wife, replied, “You can see he’s visibly flailing, like a flounder, his arm, his legs. So, what are you tasing him for?”
McNeil said what Bylthe police didn’t know about her husband and ultimately learned when a deputy with Richmond County and EMS arrived was that he is diabetic. His blood sugar dropped to 30 mg/dL. Web MD reports that range before a meal sits between 70 and 130 for diabetics. McNeil averages 120 according to his wife. She added that there is a lesson for her husband and others with diabetes.
“He should have waited for his wife. He did not,” she said of that day. “Now, the outcome of all of that is this. Even as a responder, even in all of that you cannot allow your adrenaline to supersede what you know to do.”
Though Blythe Police reports McNeil ignored verbal commands, the family said officers failed at their job and they have a lesson to learn too.
Walter, who plans on filing a lawsuit, said “They didn’t assess no situation. They just started doing stuff. They knocked out the window, tried to pull me out the car. You fighting with me, but I ain’t fighting with you.”
The American Diabetes Association calls a blood sugar reading less than 70 hypoglycemic and it can cause someone to pass out, have a seizure or go into a coma.
We drove to Blythe Police Department and mentioned McNeil’s incident to Chief Worman. He immediately said the case had been turned over to Blythe City Attorney Chris Dube. Attorney Dube said he reviewed the file and the officers acted appropriately considering the circumstance.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps