On the morning of May 2, 2007, Doug Burns, 43, the reigning “Mr. Universe’ and a type 1 diabetic, entered a courtroom in Redwood City, Calif., and was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. He could face up to a year in jail.
Burns pled not guilty, and his trial date was set for July 2.
We hope that the outcome, other than Burns’s being found not guilty, is an increased understanding from law enforcement officials and security personnel about the symptoms of extreme low blood sugar.
On April 1, Burns arrived at a movie theater in Redwood City, and when he got in line to buy tickets, he began to feel dazed from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. He remembers talking to a few people, and he realized that he was slurring his words, but he still bought tickets to a 7 p.m. show. He doesn’t remember which one; he just wanted to get in the theater and buy some candy. We know that feeling - a sinking one of wanting so badly to fix something and worrying that it's already too late.
Burns did make it inside but was apparently in bad shape. According to Burns, since the incident took place, a young girl who witnessed his behavior has contacted him. “She told me, in essence, that by the time I made it to the theater lobby area, I didn’t have two stones upstairs to rub together,” Burns told diaTribe in a telephone interview (www.diatribe.us, our online newsletter on diabetes).
A security guard then intervened. Burns was told by the young girl that she heard him, Burns, tell the security guard that he needed sugar. The security guard escorted Burns outside and called the police when Burns began loitering. The security guard apparently told the police that Burns was drunk.
“The onus isn’t on the security guard,” says Burns. “He was doing his job. But he shouldn’t have said I was drunk to the police. I think that is where the big problem started.”
According to media reports, Burns assumed a “fighting stance” when the police arrived, and at some point, Burns apparently began to push away or wrestle with the police. The police sprayed mace on him, and it ultimately took four officers to restrain him.
Upon arriving at the movie theatre, paramedics tested Burns’s blood glucose at 26 mg/dl. Burns says that the paramedics told the arresting officers to remove the handcuffs because he had hypoglycemia. The officers refused. Burns has been since told that several of the arresting officers were rookie officers.
Burns was wearing a MedicAlert ID bracelet at the time, and Redwood City police Capt. Chris Cesena told the San Mateo Daily Journal that, as noted, the on-scene medical test showed that Burns had low blood sugar.
Nonetheless, he’s been charged with assault and resisting arrest. “The fact is Mr. Burns assaulted our officer,” Cesena said. “If he had just stood there and let us help him, maybe they would have called the medics if he didn’t seem to fit the description of being under the influence. All that changes when the subject wants to attack an officer.”
Well, right. “If he had just stood there and let us help him…” anyone who has ever experienced hypoglycemia knows that during hypoglycemia, you aren’t really thinking as well as you always do, and sometimes, depending on how low you are, you don’t even realize how you are behaving. Like, when your blood sugar is 26 mg/dL, which should qualify as a severe low by anyone's definition.
Burns usually wears an insulin pump, but he had stopped wearing it because he says the heat was ruining the insulin. He reverted to injections and ended up taking excessive insulin, causing the low (he says he forgot he had Lantus in his system since he typically takes rapid acting insulin only).
Just as friends and family need to be aware of the symptoms for hypoglycemia, so too do police officers and security guards. Here’s a good start:
• nervousness and shakiness
• dizziness or light-headedness
• difficulty speaking
• feeling anxious or weak
By trying to get into the theater to get his candy, Burns was taking the best steps he could to remedy his low. In defense of the security guard and the police officers, however, it is understandable that they might not recognize that his behavior was caused by low blood glucose. That Burns is physically imposing man would have made them that much more on guard. But Burns’s MedicAlert bracelet should have been a sign his behavior was related to a medical condition. Or, as Burns says, “Maybe they should not assume there is guilt before there is.”
As long as Burns’s low blood sugar was indeed recorded at the time of the arrest, it is extremely unlikely that any court will find him guilty – other than for not staying on top of his diabetes. The fact that charges are even being brought up (or, for that matter, haven’t been dropped yet) is absurd, from our perspective. Let’s hope that both the Redwood Police Department and Doug Burns have learned from this unfortunate experience.