Black man has a stroke, Boston police arrest him instead of calling an ambulance

When police found Copeland he was barely conscious, but instead of assuming he was ill, they filed a report claiming he was intoxicated and instead of calling an ambulance, they arrested him. 

“Why they didn’t assume he was sick?” Valerie Copeland, Al’s wife asks WBUR. “I can only and strongly believe it’s because he’s a Black male.”

The night continued to become a nightmare for Copeland after he was taken to the police station. According to police records, while trying to use the bathroom in the holding cell, he fell and hit his head. Officers still did not offer him medical help, instead choosing to let him “sleep it off,” WBUR reports. 

It was only after five hours and Copeland beginning to vomit that officers finally called an ambulance to take him to Tufts Medical Center, where the nightmare turned into a horror movie. While there, medical workers also assumed he was drunk and made the decision to leave him in the emergency room unattended for seven more hours. 

Boston has settled with the Copelands for $1.3 million, but the officers have not been disciplined even though the investigation ended over a year ago. 

The Copelands never filed a lawsuit, the city of Boston simply settled with them after an attorney they’d hired contacted the city.

Although Tufts has apologized to the Copelands, the police department has never apologized or reached out to him or his family. And the physical damage is still quite significant. 

“My balance, my attitude, my appetite,” Al Copeland tells WBUR. “Tasting food, and some cognitive things that are still happening, and some physical things as well.”

Copeland spent weeks at Tufts and months at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He was forced to leave his job with the MBTA, and both eating and walking remain a challenge. 

Copeland doesn’t remember the day he had the stroke and only learned about what happened while in the rehab facility. 

“I heard … they treated you like you was a drunk on the street,” he recounts to WBUR. “That’s what I heard … and it pissed me off. Immediately, I went to: all these white addicts all over nodding all over the place, they treat me like I’m a drunk on the street.”

The Copelands say they spoke to WBUR about the tragic day in April 2019 because they hoped it might change the way the Boston police handled cases like these, and to hopefully keep it from happening to another innocent Black person. 

“Hopefully some things can come out of this,” Copeland says. “To shed some light on it, to change some things systemically. But who the hell knows.”

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