The Dangers of Phleboto-Cops
Why We All Should Be Frightened About Police "Phlebotomists"
If you have been injured by a police officer drawing your blood, photograph, document, & call our office immediately!
Many DUI investigations in both Phoenix and Tucson now result with the arresting officer selecting a blood test over a breath test. Up until a few years ago, when officers opted for a blood test, they would transport the DUI suspect to a hospital or other similar type medical facility where trained medical personnel would draw blood in a clinical setting. This procedure has been largely abandoned. Now, DUI suspects, after being told by the investigating officer a blood test will be done, are confronted with a second armed law enforcement officer wielding a needle to draw blood. The officers tell the suspects Arizona law requires them to submit to the draw and that they will suffer consequences if they fail to do so. These needle wielding officers usually claim to be trained phlebotomists.
The vast majority of the police officers calling themselves phlebotomists, however, are not graduates of a phlebotomy program and certainly cannot be considered medical personnel. While these officers claim to be "trained" phlebotomists, they will admit upon closer questioning that they merely have a "certificate of completion" in "venipuncture," and not full training in phlebotomy. Pima County Sheriff's Department "phlebotomy" supervisor, Sgt. Theel, in sworn testimony, repeatedly has asserted that his officers are first and foremost police officers obtaining evidence, and not medical personnel. This is important as while these police "phlebotomists" are performing an invasive medical procedure, their first concern is not for the safety of the blood draw subject, but gathering evidence.
This is not surprising given Arizona's failure to regulate the drawing of blood. Under Arizona law, anyone can draw blood and Arizona law enforcement agencies have taken full advantage of this this fact. Indeed, most officers claiming qualification to draw blood attended a short one week course which provided a mere two days of actual classroom instruction on the limited skill of venipuncture. After taking the course, unlike true medical personnel, most are never again subject to oversight or evaluation to assure they are maintaining their skills and applying them appropriately.
Does this limited training and the complete lack of institutional oversight and control have an affect on the blood draws being performed in the field? It is a fair guess it does. Sworn testimony as well as numerous police reports from Pima County Sheriff's Department DUI investigations have revealed a consistent trail of questionable and in many cases, dangerous blood draws performed by Pima County Sheriff's Deputies.
For example, venipunctures are done in the field and are usually done either in the back seat of an unsanitized patrol vehicle, or with the suspect standing at the trunk of the patrol vehicle. Both of these procedures raise serious questions about the reasonableness of the officers' actions. In regards to drawing blood with the suspect standing by the trunk, it must be noted that the officers' training materials indicate venipuncture should never be done with the subject standing. An while there might be some circumstances which mandate breaking this rule, PCSO has selected to routinely disregard the rule. Expert testimony on this very subject in multiple court hearings plainly established the obvious risk of a standing subject swaying or even fainting during the draw. Indeed, true to form, PCSO police reports, indicate that on multiple occasions subjects have indeed swayed, pulling needles from their arms, risking the spilling of potentially contagious blood, contamination of the sample itself, and injury to the blood draw subject. And all of this could easily be avoided simply by transporting to a clinical setting. The PCSO phlebotomy supervisor, who amazingly has no training in drawing blood, despite being aware of the conduct, indicated there were no regulations prohibiting it, and there were no plans to implement any regulations prohibiting it.
Chances are, if a suspect's blood is not drawn on the trunk of a police cruiser, it more likely then not was drawn in the back seat of the patrol vehicle. If the draw is true to form, the phlebotomist conducting the draw failed to clean the back seat prior to or after the draw and the officer failed to safely secure the subject's arm, placing him in risk of injury.
In regards to either of these "techniques," the important point to remember is the needless risk of injury and harm in these cases could have easily been avoided simply by transporting the subject to a clinical setting. As far as this counsel has been able to determine, the only ascertainable reason deputies are performing the blood draws in the field is for the convenience of the Sheriff's Department. The officers can, and purposefully do not, transport DUI suspects to a clean clinical environment. Instead, solely for law enforcement convenience, agencies have decided to draw blood in the field.
And as if the above stated was not egregious enough, police reports and sworn testimony have also shown draws being done: in lunch rooms in disregard to OSHA requirements; next to sewer facilities; in the dirty back rooms of convenience stores; and on the ground in a parking lot with multiple deputies sticking the suspect multiple times while other deputies forcibly pinned the suspect in the gravel. Testimony has even established a deputy stopping an ambulance minutes before it was due to arrive at the hospital for the purpose of drawing blood.
Is this reasonable? Is this legal? Shockingly, if not surprisingly, the trial courts have followed the familiar trend of seemingly suspending the constitutional rights of DUI suspects and have placed their stamps of approval upon the officers' actions. Some of these decisions have been appealed and will be reviewed by Arizona appellate courts.
Charnesky & Dieglio, Tucson Arizona 85701